The trend that has parents placing a stuffed elf around households in a yuletide-themed hide-and-seek game has quickly become a staple of the Christmas holidays. The tradition, where children search for the elf each December morning, has inspired increasingly creative and outrageous schemes over the last decade as parents work to create witty, goofy or downright elaborate hiding spots while their kids are sleeping. But where did the idea first come from?



The time-honored tradition began when mother-daughter duo Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell cooked up an idea for an illustrated children’s book about elves from Santa’s workshop who act as scouts and report back on children’s behavior. The pair launched the Elf on the Shelf book in 2005, which became a hit among parents and young children due to its catchy verses and quirky real-life application.

Quickly, the trend snowballed into a marketing phenomenon, with the original book selling more than 8 million copies and hitting No. 1 on USA Today’s bestseller list this month. An elf-based TV movie, clothing line and other merchandise have also taken off since the story’s inception — and even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades feature a gigantic helium-filled elf floating over the crowds, arms wrapped around its tucked-in legs.



Parents now vie with one another on social media platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter to post photos of their creative hiding places — with elves placed in marshmallow baths, wrapped around furniture and sprawled in miniature snow angels made of flour.

But the trend hasn’t quite been met with universal acclaim. Some parents say the elves are creepy, while others dislike the idea of teaching their children that good behavior is rewarded with Christmas gifts rather than being an unconditional expectation. But many simply loathe the challenge of coming up with a new elf-placement scheme each day — even going so far as to suggest an elf support group for weary parents.