NEW YORK (PIX11) – As you scroll through social media this holiday season, you may come upon a little elf decking the halls of families’ homes with havoc. It has become a trend online, but what is the story behind “The Elf on the Shelf”?

In 2005, a children’s picture book called “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition” was published. The book, written by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell and illustrated by Coë Steinwart, teaches kids how the infamous naughty or nice list is put together each year by Santa Claus.

How does The Elf on the Shelf work?

“Scout Elves,” as they are referred to in the book, are sent out by Santa between Nov. 23 and Dec. 1, in a week called “Scout Elf Return Week,” according to

Once an elf is delivered, you can register them online, give them a name, and access an adoption certificate as well as a personalized letter from Santa. After that, madness ensues.

Parents can use their creativity or use ideas provided by the company to plant their new elf around the house to make sure their kid(s) are staying on the nice list until Christmas.
In 2013, The Elf on the Shelf got its own Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. Since 2005, more than 22.5 million elves have been “adopted,” according to Business Insider.

Jonathan Rizk is a digital journalist who has covered local news in the New York City and Washington D.C. areas. He has been with PIX11 since August 2022. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.