How 'Elf on a Shelf' tradition started in East Tennessee

How 'Elf on a Shelf' tradition started in East Tennessee

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An elf on a shelf really brings out Christmas excitement. (source: CCA and B, LLC) An elf on a shelf really brings out Christmas excitement. (source: CCA and B, LLC)
The scout elf waits for a family to read the story. The scout elf waits for a family to read the story.
Carol Aebersold signs a copy for a thoughtful young lady. (source: CCA and B, LLC) Carol Aebersold signs a copy for a thoughtful young lady. (source: CCA and B, LLC)

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Have you heard of the "Elf on the Shelf?" It's a relatively new Christmas tradition in homes with small children, schools and even daycares, and it started in East Tennessee.

In this tradition, Santa sends his scout elves to Elf Adoption Centers where they hibernate as they wait for a family to bring them home by reading "The Elf on the Shelf."

The family gives their elf a special name and registers their online adoption. Then each scout elf receives its Christmas magic and becomes part of the family's Christmas each year.

The elves can't be touched or they could lose their magic, but they listen and relay messages to Santa.

After the family goes to bed each night, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to make a daily report to Santa on who's been naughty and who's been nice.

Author Carol Aebersold shared her story about when her elf first appeared in her Oak Ridge home decades ago.

"So every night it flies back to the North Pole to tell Santa what it is seeing or hearing. And the next morning, it is hiding in a new spot so kids need to find where it is." The elves can hide just about anywhere.

Aebersold's parents, who still live in East Tennessee, continued that tradition for years.

Although Carol went on to graduate from Oak Ridge High School and then from the University of Tennessee in 1970, her elf wasn't far behind.

"Then when I got married, my elf came with me and his elf came with him. So our children grew up with the same tradition we had," she explained.

When Aebersold's kids were grown, she decided to contact Santa to see if she could write a book about this tradition and share it with more families.

In 2005, the elves started being sent in packages from the North Pole, complete with Aebersold's book.

For the first year or two, the Elf on the Shelf could only be found in select venues, but now Santa is sending more elves than ever.

"It was totally word of mouth that brought Barnes & Noble, Hallmark and Target knocking on our door," she said.

Add into that a newly-released Christmas special, and Aebersold is one busy woman.

In fact, between her book tour on the West Coast, when Made in Tennessee caught up with her, and a new granddaughter, she may not make it back to East Tennessee this Christmas.

Nonetheless, she's thrilled to see so many people share the tradition she knew growing up in Tennessee.

"The elves are their friends. They make Christmas more fun than it usually is, plus it gives Santa a hand. I think we all thought Santa did everything himself. Now we know he has help."

The Christmas special, "An Elf's Story," is available on DVD and Aebersold says it helps answer more questions for families about the elf's magic and why kids can't touch them.

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