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Where Did This “Elf on the Shelf” Come From?

Do We Love the Elf on the Shelf?

The typical “elf on the shelf” looking ever mischievous.

Photo by Misty Ladd on Unsplash

I had a conversation with my wife several years ago regarding the Elf on the Shelf. This was something she brought into our home when our kids were born. It seemed like a good idea at the time. You bring out Santa’s little “informant,” who does something naughty during the night and reports on your kid’s behavior back to St. Nick at the North Pole.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas, but this Elf has become a job. Luckily my wife does the heavy lifting, but I hear this from our kids often, “Didn’t the elf do this last year.” There are only so many original things you can come up with on your own. Lucky for us, Pinterest and Facebook are rife with ideas you can swipe.

Pandemic affected elf equipped with medical mask to prevent COVID transmission.

Typical Masked Elf (media by JC)

This Elf on the Shelf became a slow-moving phenomenon in 2005, which explains why I had no idea of its existence. Based on a book written by Carol Aebersold in 2004, the movement began to pick up steam. If you don’t know the story, you can read more about it here in Woman’s Day. Santa’s elves were my parents growing up. They had Santa’s direct line and could let them know of our misdeeds.

As I understand it, the idea of elves is not something new. The 2005 “Elf on a Shelf” was strongly influenced by a Scandinavian elf/elves called “Nisse.” These elves or spirits were responsible for the care and prosperity of the home year-round. Eventually, this trickled into the Christmas season, and the Nisse would be the bearers of presents. The household was responsible for keeping the Nisse satisfied with porridge on Christmas Eve, or the house would experience misfortune after that. They were then called “Julenisse” or “Julenisser” from here on out.

The Nisser, Scandinavian elves with red pointy hats.

I knew the “Elf on the Shelf” could not have originated in 2005. My Mother-In-Law had an elf from her childhood. Their tradition involved each child having an elf at Christmas in their stocking. When the child became old enough to move out, the Elf would go with them. She came from a household of 9 children, which entailed nine different elves.

The Elf on a Shelf has become a phenomenon that parents love or hate. We can formally thank our Scandinavian friends, the Danish, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegians, for bringing these Pixies into our lives!

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