The Elf on the Shelf

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The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition
The Elf on the Shelf (book).jpg
Author Carol Aebersold
Chanda Bell
Illustrator Coë Steinwart
Language English
Genre Picture book
Publisher CCA and B Publishing
Publication date
Published in English
ISBN 978-0-9769907-9-6

The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children's picture book, written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. The book tells a Christmas-themed story, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and nice. It describes elves visiting children between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, after which they return to the North Pole until the next holiday season. The Elf on the Shelf comes in a keepsake box that features a hardbound picture book and a small soft toy in the form of a pixie scout elf.


This story describes how Santa's "scout elves" hide in people's homes to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the scout elf flies back from the North Pole and hides. By hiding in a new spot each morning around the house, the scout elf plays an ongoing game of hide and seek with the family.

The Elf on the Shelf explains that scout elves get their magic by being named and being loved by a child. In the back of each book, families have an opportunity to write their elf's name and the date that they adopted it. Once the elf is named, the scout elf receives its special Christmas magic, which allows it to fly to and from the North Pole.

The book tells how the magic might disappear if the scout elf is touched, so the rule for The Elf on the Shelf states, "There's only one rule that you have to follow, so I will come back and be here tomorrow: Please do not touch me. My magic might go, and Santa won't hear all I've seen or I know." Although families are told not to touch their scout elf, they can speak to it and tell it all their Christmas wishes so that it can report back to Santa accurately.

The story ends on Christmas Day with the elf leaving to stay with Santa for the rest of the year until the following Christmas season.


The Elf on the Shelf was written in 2004 by Carol Aebersold and daughter Chanda Bell over a cup of tea. Bell suggested they write a book about an old tradition of an elf sent from Santa who came to watch over them at Christmas time. Aebersold's other daughter, Christa Pitts, was recruited by the family to share her expertise in sales and marketing. Together, the trio devoted the next three years promoting their self-published book and attending book signings and trade shows.

The Elf on the Shelf won the Best Toy Award by Learning Express, won Book of the Year Award from Creative Child Awards and National Best Books Award sponsored by USA Book News in 2008. In 2012, The Elf on the Shelf made its first appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside fellow parade newcomers Hello Kitty and Papa Smurf. In 2013, The Elf on the Shelf hit the #1 spot on the USA Today Bestsellers List.[1]

On 26 November 2011, the book aired on CBS as a 30-minute animated TV show, An Elf's Story: The Elf on the Shelf, directed by Chad Eikhoff.[2][3] The Washington Post criticized the quality of the animation and dismissed it as "just a half-hour advertisement for a book and a toy", which it felt would not join "the canon of prime-time animated Christmas specials that actually move the spirit".[3] Common Sense Media disagreed, calling the special "a great addition to families' holiday TV traditions";[4] however, they also warn parents about the consumer-driven nature of the story, and make note of its lack of educational value.

In October 2013, The Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition was released. Written and illustrated by the same team that created the first book, it offers instructions for inviting a scout elf to visit for a child's birthday party and describes how the elf decorates a chair for the child.[citation needed] In April 2014, two supplemental birthday products were released: The Elf on the Shelf Birthday Countdown Game and The Elf on the Shelf Birthday Chair Decoration Kit.[citation needed]

The Elf on the Shelf was parodied as "The Gnome in the Home" in "The Nightmare After Krustmas," a 2016 episode of The Simpsons.

Mensch on a Bench[edit]

A Jewish counterpart to Elf On The Shelf was created: "Mensch on a Bench," a stuffed toy that looks a bit like a rabbi or a Hasidic Jew.[5][6][7] Jewish father Neal Hoffman, a former Hasbro Toys toy marketing executive, raised more than $20,000, using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to fund creation of the toy in 2011.[6][8][9][10] "Mensch", in Yiddish, means a person of integrity or honor.[5][11][12]

Cody Decker, the starting left fielder for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, brought the team's mascot, a five-foot version of "Mensch on a Bench," with him to Asia from the United States for the World Baseball Classic.[5][13][14] Decker said he "tried getting him a first-class ticket. But that didn’t fly, so he was put in a duffel bag and checked."[15] The mascot proved to be a big hit.[5][13] He has his own locker, sits on Team Israel's bench in the dugout during every game, and sat alongside Decker at a press conference in South Korea.[11][15][16] Decker said:

"He’s a mascot, he’s a friend, he’s a teammate, he’s a borderline deity to our team.... He brings a lot to the table.... Every team needs their Jobu. He was ours. He had his own locker, and we even gave him offerings: Manischewitz, gelt, and gefilte fish... He is everywhere and nowhere all at once. His actual location is irrelevant because he exists in higher metaphysical planes. But he’s always near."[11]

Team Israel Manager Jerry Weinstein said: "He’s on the team. Everybody brings something to the team, and certainly The Mensch is a unifying factor for the ball club."[5] Pitcher Gabe Cramer said: "The Mensch on a Bench is ... a symbol we can rally around as a team. We are proud to be Jewish, but we know how to make and take a joke, something Jews have a long history of doing. The Mensch is a great way to have fun in the dugout while reminding us of why we’re here and who we’re representing."[17]


The Elf has received some criticism from cultural reviewers. The Atlantic columnist Kate Tuttle calls it "a marketing juggernaut dressed up as a tradition" whose purpose is "to spy on kids" and that one shouldn't "bully your child into thinking that good behavior equals gifts."[18] Washington Post reviewer Hank Stuever characterized the concept as "just another nannycam in a nanny state obsessed with penal codes".[3] Writing for Psychology Today, Dr. David Kyle Johnston calls it a "dangerous parental crutch", with much the same reasoning as what he terms the "Santa lie".[19] Professor Laura Pinto suggests that it conditions kids to accept the surveillance state and that it communicates to children that "it's okay for other people to spy on you, and you're not entitled to privacy."[20] She argues that "if you grow up thinking it's cool for the elves to watch me and report back to Santa, well, then it's cool for the NSA to watch me and report back to the government ... The rule of play is that kids get to interact with a doll or video game or what have you, but not so with the Elf on the Shelf: The rule is that you don't touch the elf. Think about the message that sends."[21][22]


  1. ^ [1] Archived April 15, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "An Elf's Story". The Elf on the Shelf. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  3. ^ a b c Hank Stuever (November 24, 2011). "CBS's 'Elf on the Shelf': Unwarranted Christmas surveillance techniques". Washington Post. Retrieved August 25, 2013. 
  4. ^ "The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf's Story". 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Israel's Mensch on the Bench mascot at World Baseball Classic," Newsday.
  6. ^ a b Meet Mensch On A Bench, Jewish Counterpart To Eldhdhshf On The Shelf : NPR
  7. ^ The Mensch On The Bench | New York Post
  8. ^
  9. ^ The Mensch on a Bench claims space on elf toy's holiday turf - NY Daily News
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c "Israel's World Baseball Classic mascot: Mensch on a Bench," Yahoo.
  12. ^ "With Mensch on Bench, Israel ready for Classic,"
  13. ^ a b "Dutch Players Take Leave From Spring Training For World Baseball Classic," NPR.
  14. ^ "Mensch on a Bench, mascot of Israel baseball team, a hoot ahead of WBC,", The Times of Israel.
  15. ^ a b "The best thing about Team Israel’s World Baseball Classic run is their delightful mascot," USA Today.
  16. ^ "Israel’s suddenly the undefeated darling of the baseball world," The New York Post.
  17. ^ "Team Israel scores another surprise baseball win — with a Marin pitcher," J.
  18. ^ You're a Creepy One, Elf on the Shelf in The Atlantic, December 6, 2012.
  19. ^ David Kyle Johnston, Let's Bench the Elf on the Shelf. Psychology Today, December 19, 2012.
  20. ^ "Who's the Boss?". Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved 2017-12-01. 
  21. ^ Craig Johnson, Does the Elf contribute to the surveillance state?., December 1, 2014. Archived December 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ Kyle Olsen, Prof: ‘Elf on the Shelf' conditions kids to accept surveillance state. Education Action Group Foundation, Inc., December 15, 2014.

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