For most families, the holiday season is synonymous with tradition. Whether it’s grandma’s famous latke recipe or a special tree topper, chances are, there's something that you look forward to breaking out each year. For Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, that something was a toy house elf who was perched in nooks and crannies around their house in Marietta, GA, on the lookout for Santa Claus. His name was Fisbee, and he was the O.G. Elf on the Shelf. “We both loved this tradition so much,” said Bell. “The elf never stopped coming to our home, no matter how old I got.”
Years later, Carol, a newly minted empty nester, and Chanda, a first-time mom, decided to tackle a fresh project together. They decided to write about one of their family's longest-standing traditions—and just like that, the Elf on the Shelf was born. First published in 2005, each book sold was accompanied by its very own scout elf, launching the Aebersold family's story into homes around the world.
Now, families decorate their houses with these little guys, changing the location from day to day over the holidays as a fun Christmas-themed game. Kids wake up each morning with a new at task at hand: to find which part of the house Santa's helper has moved to. Since then, the brand has expanded to other spinoff products, from their Claus Couture Collection to an Elf on the Shelf movie.
For Bell, working on the story was a chance to revisit her favorite memories from her youth. “It was fun for me because I got to bring a child's point of view to the conversation,” she said. “As a little girl, I remembered talking to the elf and racing my siblings out of bed to be the first to find him. Meanwhile, Mom got to bring her point of view as a parent and elaborate on the rules she had introduced us to as children, such as not touching the elf.”
VIDEO: Neil Patrick Harris's Holiday Party Tips
Of course, The Elf on the Shelf isn't just for kids. Adults can get just as much cheer from the little guy's presence—and even celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon to delight in the wonder-filled holiday activity. Stars like Kelly Clarkson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Busy Philipps, and Kourtney Kardashian have all garnished their homes with the Elf on the Shelf over the years. A few celebs like Kylie and Kourtney have even gone so far as to get competitive with one another, posting their most creative Elf on the Shelf hiding spots to try and outdo one another.
And while watching stars take part in the tradition has been a highlight for the creators of the elusive Elf, it’s actually the everyday stories that have had the biggest impact on Aebersold and Bell. “Sometimes, the sincerity of the tale and the amazing circumstances people overcome as a result of having the elf in their life is quite touching,” said Aebersold. “One little girl suffered from select mutism and for the first time ever got up and spoke to her class about her elf. It was therapeutic for her and helped to change the course of her life. I am honored to be a part of that. “
If that's not holiday magic, we don't know what is.