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Is Elf on the Shelf Real? (or a Fake Christmas Tradition?)

Elf on the Shelf is a worldwide phenomenon. But for many kids and teens, the lines can blur between innocent holiday traditions and reality. So, are Elf on the Shelf real or fake?

Elf on the Shelf is not real and requires parents or other guardians to move it each night. But while they may not be real in the same way as people or animals, they do embody the spirit of the season.

Embrace the fun and surprises they bring and enjoy the holiday festivities!

As a beloved Christmas tradition for many families worldwide, the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon has captured imaginations and stirred controversy in equal measure.

In this blog post, we will delve into the origins of this captivating elf tradition and examine how your scout elf is believed to communicate with Santa Claus himself and fly home to the North Pole nightly between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.

We’ll explore both sides of the debate – from those who wholeheartedly embrace the magical powers of these mischievous little helpers to skeptics questioning their authenticity or even think the whole elf movement is evil.

As we discuss parental perspectives and challenges surrounding nightly elf movements and social media pressures, you’ll gain insight into some controversial incidents involving elves that have made headlines.

Finally, we’ll consider why “Are elf on the shelf real or fake” continues to be such a hot topic as we look at its enduring popularity, impact on global Christmas traditions, spin-off products like elf pets, and other merchandise.


Table of Contents:

The Elf on the Shelf Phenomenon

Get ready to welcome the Elf on the Shelf, the Christmas tradition that has taken the world by storm since 2005.

The tradition started with a children’s book; The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition. It is a 2005 American picture book for children, written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell and illustrated by Coë Steinwart.

Aebersold’s twin sister Christa Pitts and her company the Lumistella Company, then took over the production and marketing of the project and the rest is history.

Origins of Elf on the Shelf

The Elf on the Shelf was inspired by Carol Aebersold’s family tradition involving an elf named Fisbee who would mysteriously change locations throughout their home during December.

The book also comes with a new elf doll who then gets its magic after the child at its new home gives it a name.

How Scout Elves Communicate with Santa Claus

Scout elves use Christmas magic to travel back and forth between your home and Santa’s workshop, ensuring they can relay important information about whether kids have been naughty or nice all year long. They love to report on good behavior. But they also report on bad behavior too although the elves themselves are known to be naughty.

But once Christmas day rolls around, the elf is gone until next year.

For those who want to learn more about this beloved tradition, check out my article on Can Elf on the Shelf Move? (Reasons & ideas for why and how).

Believers vs Skeptics

Some kids swear by the magic of Elf on the Shelf, while others scoff at the idea of a lifeless toy having supernatural powers or being able to communicate with Santa.

  • Believers: Kids who buy into the Christmas magic love searching for their elf each morning and eagerly await its return from reporting to Santa.
  • Skeptics: Older children may question the plausibility of a toy having magical abilities, leading them to doubt its authenticity.
  • Critics: Some argue that using Elf on the Shelf as a disciplinary tool instills fear in children instead of promoting the joy of the holiday season.

Despite the debate, Elf on the Shelf remains a popular tradition in many households during the holidays, and some parents even arrange for Elves to get married!.

(Source – Pinterest)

Parental Perspectives and Challenges

While kids love the Elf on the Shelf, parents can find it tough to keep up with nightly elf movements and other holiday responsibilities, leading some to turn to social media for inspiration.

  • Social media pressures: Parents may feel the need to keep up with elaborate setups posted by others, adding stress during an already busy season.
  • Nightly elf movements: Remembering to move the elf each night can be a daunting task, especially when trying to avoid repetition and maintain their child’s belief in Christmas magic.
  • Belief in Christmas magic: Parents may go to great lengths to keep their child’s belief in Santa and the magic of Christmas alive, including using the Elf on the Shelf tradition.

But the hardest job of a parent with regards to Elf on the Shelf is undoubtedly both remembering to move the elf each night, but also to come up with fun, easy-to-execute, mischievous Elf on the Shelf ideas each night too.

But if your kid wakes up the next morning and your elf hasn’t moved to a new spot, you’re in trouble!

Controversial Incidents Involving Elf on the Shelf

A recent Reddit post highlighted anger after the tutor of a fourth grader accidentally revealed that Elf on-the-Shelf is fake.

While some agree it wasn’t appropriate for teachers to reveal this information, others defend educators providing honest responses when asked directly by curious students about different family traditions surrounding Christmas time.

  • Teachers’ roles in maintaining belief: Some argue that educators should support parents in preserving the magic of childhood and not disclose the truth about these holiday customs.
  • Balancing honesty and preserving childhood innocence: Others believe children deserve truthful answers from trusted adults, even if it means shattering their illusions about magical elves reporting to Santa Claus.
  • Elf on-the-Shelf alternatives: For those looking for a new holiday tradition, there are plenty of other options such as Kindness Elves or Reindeer in Here.
  • Psychological impact of Elf on-the-Shelf: Some experts argue that the elf can create unnecessary stress and anxiety for children, as they feel constantly monitored and judged by the elf’s presence.
  • Elf on-the-Shelf merchandise: The elf has become a commercialized phenomenon, with various merchandise available for purchase including clothing, accessories, and even a movie.


Is The Elf on the Shelf real or do your parents move it?

The elf is not a real creature, but they’re part of a fun game that adds excitement to the holiday season.

Each night, parents might move the elf to different spots around the house, creating surprises and wonder for children to discover in the morning. It’s all about creating joyful moments and embracing the spirit of imagination and make-believe.

So, while the elf isn’t real in the same way as you and me, they bring lots of fun and holiday cheer. Enjoy the adventure and the memories you make with your Elf on the Shelf!

Does Elf on the Shelf watch you?

No, Elf on the Shelf does not actually watch you, it’s just a toy designed for fun and entertainment during Christmas time.

But the premise behind the toy is that your elf keeps an eye on you and reports back to Santa each night as to whether you were naughty or nice.

How do you start an Elf on the Shelf tradition?

To start your own Elf on the Shelf tradition, purchase an official elf from their website or authorized retailers like Amazon or Target, and follow the instructions in the accompanying book.

CLICK HERE to check out all the options on Amazon.

Why was Elf on the Shelf recalled?

There have been no recalls involving The Elf On The Shelf products, but if any recalls occur in the future due to safety concerns or manufacturing defects, information will be available through official channels such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

That being said, there were some TikTok’ers who posted about a supposed Walmart recall and also a judge in Georgia who made a joke ruling about banning Elf on the Shelf for the benefit of parents.

But again, no legitimate recall has taken place as of the time of this writing, nor would it be likely.


In conclusion, the Elf on the Shelf brings a touch of magic and excitement to the holiday season.

While the elf itself is not a real creature, it is a beloved tradition where parents play a special role in creating joyful moments for their children. It’s a fun and playful way to celebrate the spirit of the holidays, allowing kids to imagine and discover surprises each day.

So, whether the elf is real or not in the traditional sense, the joy and wonder it brings are very real. Embrace the holiday spirit, enjoy the magic, and create beautiful memories with your Elf on the Shelf. Happy holidays!

As a parent or spouse, it’s important to respect others’ choices and feelings regarding this phenomenon.

Whether you choose to adopt an elf or not during the Christmas season, remember that love, kindness, generosity, and joy are what truly matter.

I have a collection of free printable Elf on the Shelf goodbye letters (5 seasonal and 2 final) you can download for FREE!

They are in Microsoft Word, that way you can personalize it with your elf’s name and also address them to your kids if you wish.

Use a cool font for your Elf on the Shelf goodbye note

Assuming you’ll write the letter on your computer and print it, I recommend using a sort of funky, hand-written looking font.

You may have some great ones, but there’s a ton of free ones you can download too. Since this will be during the holiday season, you could also use some holiday-themed fonts too.

Here are my favorite free fonts for Elf on the Shelf goodbye letters

(just click to download them for free from the font website):

Like most fonts you would download online, these are zip files. Just right click to expand and then drag the folder contents into your fonts folder (that for a PC; I’m not super familiar with Mac).

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Jeff Campbell