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What is Elf on the Shelf? The Tradition Uncovered

What is elf on the shelf_ Elf in Christmas tree

The Ultimate Guide to The Elf on the Shelf

What is the ‘elf on the shelf’?

You’ve seen the elves dominating the social media space in their adorable red suit. You’ve seen them adorned across each and every aisle in the supermarket, their fixed smiles an ominous reminder of the stressful season that’s just around the corner. And now you want to know what all the fuss is about.

Well, buckle up and let us show you the way to make that effortless transition into Elf Parenthood, so you, too, can be a part of a widely-appreciated and long-held tradition!

The Elf on the Shelf(R) is a long-standing tradition that has dominated and revitalised the Christmas season for almost two decades. Over the years, the tradition has captured the hearts and imaginations of children across the globe.

According to the Christmas tradition, these magical ‘scout’ elves are dispatched from the North Pole on Christmas Eve and sent out to homes all around the world.

These scout elves then help Santa to organise and manage his ‘Naughty’ and ‘Nice’ lists by observing your family’s Christmas activities and misdeeds.

With this newfound intel on your traditional Christmas behaviour, the scout elf then flies back to the North Pole each night to report their findings back to Santa himself.

As a result, Santa can then figure out which children are ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’, and who to leave – or not leave – presents under the Christmas tree for, accordingly.

So watch out kids: because Santa’s scout elves know when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!

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An Overview of the Elf on the Shelf Tradition

What is elf on the shelf_ Elf on the stairs

The History of the Original ‘Elf on the Shelf’

Here at Open for Christmas, we understand that Christmas can be an exceptionally stressful time for most parents.

When your kids are all hopped up on sugar, e-numbers and that chocolate high that’s all too real sometimes, we know that you want nothing more than to give them something fun to really get them into the Christmas spirit. Whilst keeping them in check so that you can get on with the all-important Christmas chores.

‘But how?’, you might ask. Well, you can start by teaching them about the Elf on the Shelf Chrismas tradition, which our festive fanatics here at Open For Christmas have researched and gathered information on for you.

So, read on to find out everything there is to know about the origins of the long-standing and celebrated tradition.

The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition

The very first Elf on the Shelf was first borne into the world through the magical penmanship of The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, a festive book written in 2004 by children’s author Carol Aebersold, along with her daughter, Chanda Bell.

The book was originally written with the sole intention of improving Aebersold’s own children’s behaviour and that of other parent’s kids.

The Elf on the Shelf tells a Christmas-themed story – written entirely in rhyme – about how Santa and his ‘scout’ elves work together to decide who has behaved well, and who hasn’t, and who will or will not get presents that Christmas.

Elf on The Shelf: A Christmas Tradition (Blue-Eyed Girl Scout Elf)

It explains how every year Santa sends his elves out to homes across the world in order to observe children’s behaviour from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve.

The book then goes on to describe how the elves move around your home to get a thorough observation of everything your children do, seemingly disappearing from one spot (Christmas tree), then reappearing somewhere else entirely (dining table).

Once they’ve ‘scouted’ out enough of your children’s good deeds and misdeeds, they then fly back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, where they report their findings back to Santa himself.

After Christmas Day has been and gone, the elves fly back to the North Pole, and this is where they stay to help Santa prepare the presents for the next Christmas.

The Elf on the Shelf book has helped to encourage thousands of children across the globe to behave throughout the Christmas season. Now, with the help of the elf, you can ensure that your Christmas is smooth-running too!

Elf on the Shelf: Modern Usage and Rules

Modern Usage

Over the years, the Elf on the Shelf has evolved from a simple Christmas story into a global family tradition that’s held during every Christmas period.

Nowadays, the Elf on the Shelf has moved from the North Pole, across the pond, into the UK. As a result, it has grown into a tangible elf figurine that you can invite into your home to watch over your family and children in person.

So how does it work? The scout elves are sent out directly from the North Pole, to arrive at your homes in seasonal keepsake box on the first day of December.

The keepsake box features The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition storybook, which explains to your children what the scout elves do and why they’re around just for the Christmas holidays.

The idea behind the modern Elf on the Shelf is that you, a parent, move the elves between rooms in order to create the illusion that the doll is alive and ‘scouting’ out bad behaviour.

This will instil a sense of wonder and gentle fear within your child, ensuring that they maintain their best behaviour. As a result, they’re sure to stay on Santa’s ‘Nice’ list!


As with any Christmas tradition, there are a few rules to remember to ensure your scout elf returns each year.

Firstly, you must name your elf on your shelf. This will give them the magic they use to fly.

Secondly, the most important thing you should ALWAYS remember is to NEVER touch your scout elf in front of your children. Not only will this break the illusion, but it will also mean that your elf will lose their magic, the very thing that allows them to fly between the North Pole and your home.

Without it, they cannot do their job, and if Santa can’t tell who’s naughty or nice, he can’t do his either. Help Santa and his elves sort Christmas: leave your elf alone when you’re around your children.

Secondly, a scout elf can’t talk back to you, but they can listen. Your little ones can share their secrets, wishes and dreams with their elf as often as they like.

Finally, you must remember to pack away your elf on Boxing Day. This is to ensure that your children know when the elves need to return to the North Pole and to further set the illusion in stone.

Where Can I Buy My Own ‘Elf on the Shelf’?

Over time, the charming children’s story has developed into a viral Christmas tradition that has spread across the UK like wildfire.

In the run-up to the Christmas period, you can find all kinds of elves and elf dolls in high-street retailers such as John Lewis, Wilko, Argos, and even Tesco for as little as £4!

However, if you are anything like us here at Open for Christmas, then you probably prefer to buy all of your Christmas decorations online, rather than in person, to avoid that nightmare of a Black Friday scramble.

One of the major benefits of purchasing your decorations online is that it allows you to get the best deals without having to literally fight perfect strangers to do so.

You can find plenty of iterations of the charming scout elf online these days. It seems to be a bit on the nose, but the most obvious place to look is the official Elf on the Shelf site itself.

Their official scout elf doll is currently selling for £23.73 ($29.95), which could be a bit pricey for some, but the variety of the elves that they offer is too great to miss out on!

Alternatively, if you’re looking to save those all-important pennies, then you might be better off with an elf from Amazon. Amazon, by far, offers the best variety in scout elf, which means you can be sure you can find the perfect elf to suit your family and home.

For example, the official Elf on the Shelf doll is available on Amazon; while cheaper alternatives are also available, such as the Elves Behavin’ Badly Naughty Elf Doll!

Now, those are some serious Christmas savings you can make without having to sacrifice any sense of elf quality!

Ideas and Games

So, now you know the history, you’ve learned about the rules and you’ve gained a comprehensive understanding of how the scout elf activity has evolved over the years.

But now all of the responsibility is in your hands as a parent. It’s up to you to find new and exciting resting ideas and places for your elf to pop up in every morning, on top of everything you’ve got to do to prepare for Christmas.

You might be stuck for ideas, but panic not: we have compiled a host of creative ideas for you and your family to prank your kids with throughout the Christmas period.

Elf on the Shelf Ideas

  1. You could make fake ‘miniature’ presents and have your elf posed as if they’re wrapping them.
  2. Alternatively, you could also bake miniature Christmas cookies then have your elf posed with them, as if they’re a gift for your children or Santa himself.
  3. You could perch your elf on the edge of your child’s bedside table, with a miniature handwritten note in their hand to give to your kid.
  4. For friends and family members that are a fan of The Nutcracker, you can dress your elf up as a sugar-plum fairy. Check out this set on Amazon: it comes with a dress, a miniature toy soldiers, some ballet shoes, and a whole heap of Christmas spirit.

We hope these simple, yet imaginative elf-posing ideas have helped you to find some of your own inventive ways to pose your elf and create some drama.

However, if you are stretched a bit too thin from the rest of the prep that you have to get done in time for Christmas, then head on over to The Telegraph and check out their Beginner’s Guide to Elf on the Shelf for more ideas and a thorough guide to the tradition.

For more ideas, we also love The Elf on the Shelf Scout Elves at Play Kit and Set with its 60 page booklet and 100+ ideas and tips.

The Elf on the Shelf Scout Elves at Play Accessory Kit-Over 100 Days of Ideas!

What is Elf on The Shelf – Our Closing Thoughts

So, there you have it: you now know everything there is to know about the charming history of the Elf on the Shelf and its origins; all of the different ways in which the game can be played; and perhaps most importantly, where you can find your own personal elf to hang on your own fireplace, for the best deal possible so that you can save those all-important pennies for what’s really important: Christmas presents!

Here at Open for Christmas, we know that during the Christmas rush, you already have enough to do what with buying and wrapping all of your presents, decorating the house, and cooking your entire delicious Christmas dinner. Granted, your kids are probably around to give you a helping hand.

However, even if your kids are busy being kids at Christmas, we hope that this article has made the job of searching for and finding the best Elf on the Shelf doll for your children a whole lot less stressful.

No matter which style of elf you choose to buy, you can rest easy knowing your home and kids will be protected, watched over and well-behaved throughout the nightmare that is the run-up to that wonderful, festive Christmas Day.

Related Articles on Christmas Activities for Children:

What is Elf on the Shelf? The Tradition Uncovered

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