While Santa and his elves are busy making lovely toys for all the girls and boys, we were lucky enough to sit down with some of his special helpers. Carol Aebersold, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts are in the UK to spread the joy of The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.
A Christmas tradition that has hit America by storm, The Elf on the Shelf gives families the opportunity to adopt their own elf, who will be Santa’s eyes and ears in the lead up to Christmas. We were lucky enough to interview Santa’s helpers all about the book and the phenomenon it has become in recent years. By the time we were done, we were chomping at the bit to get the Christmas carols on and the tree up.
1. The Elf on the Shelf is a truly magical book and inspires adults to reignite that imagination inside them. Did you ever imagine it would become the publishing success it has?
Carol Aebersold: I think it depends on how success is defined, but we certainly would not have predicted the path we would end up taking to get here. I love how you stated that our book “inspires adults to reignite the imagination inside them”. That would certainly be considered a measure of success in my mind.
In 2005 when my daughter, Chanda Bell, and I wrote The Elf on the Shelf (with Santa’s permission, of course) we didn’t have any idea it would ever be a ‘bestseller’. What we did know was how much this tradition meant to our family; and we believed it would mean a lot to other families. However, we never thought millions of people would embrace this tradition the way that they have.
2. As a family run business, it must be difficult to refrain from discussing work at the dinner table. Do you have certain rules that you all must adhere to when there’s a family get-together?
Christa Pitts: I wouldn’t say we have any rules that we adhere to, but in general, we try to leave work at the office and enjoy our time as a family, that’s really important to us.
3. In 2011, The Elf on the Shelf was transformed into an animated special. It must have been amazing to see the book come to life in such a way. Can you tell us a little bit about how this animation special came to be?
Christa: In 2011, we wanted to ensure The Elf on the Shelf would be considered a Christmas classic with an enduring legacy. We wanted it to become a part of the fabric of Christmas tradition. So, we decided the best way to do that would be through an animated Christmas special; similar to those we used to watch growing up.
However, with little experience and a staunch need to protect the brand and the story – we thought it best to tackle this project ourselves. My mother, sister and I enlisted the help of four other partners, and together we founded Big Canoe Entertainment which produced An Elf’s Story™. We collectively went to work writing the story and the script, recording songs and mixing music. It was important to us to create a Christmas special in the vein of some of our childhood favourites, and I think An Elf’s Story was a success in that way.
4. You all travel a huge amount throughout the year and in the weeks leading up to Christmas. You must clock up more air miles than Santa himself! Do you have any tips for new authors who may be a little daunted by a hectic release schedule?
Carol: Even with a hectic schedule, whenever I am on the road the fans make it all worth it. I’ve met so many children and heard these remarkable stories from families about how their Elf on the Shelf has benefitted them and how special this tradition is. I feel so lucky to have those rewarding experiences. My advice would be to focus on being in the moment, and the travel will become unimportant.
5. In more recent years, a lot of celebrities have joined in on the elfish festive fun. This must have had quite an effect on sales of the book. Who were you most excited to hear was a fan?
Chanda Bell: I think we’re always excited when any celebrity starts snapping pictures and showing us how much fun they’re having with their family’s scout elf. I love that they are creating a special tradition for their own family that means something special to them.
Honestly, we are honored so many celebrities like Mark Wahlberg, Courtney Cox and Busy Phillips have adopted The Elf on the Shelf tradition in their home, but I’m not sure there is one particular person I would single out. I’m just happy their family has found a way to make memories together.
6. With the rise of social media sites, such as Instagram, do you find that the elves have to be more careful to make sure they don’t get spotted on the move?
Chanda: Just like Santa Claus, kids are always trying to catch scout elves in action and certainly with the popularity of social media, the scout elves have to be extra careful to keep their missions under wraps.
7. Creating a festive family tradition is what this book is all about. Do you have other traditions in your home that you still love to celebrate each Christmas?
Chanda: Decorating the tree, attending church on Christmas Eve.
Christa: The Elf on the Shelf, of course! We also all watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on Christmas Eve, and cook together on Christmas day.
Carol: Completely sponsoring an underprivileged family for Christmas, watching Christmas movies as a family and, of course, our Elf on the Shelf tradition.
8. So many children around the world love The Elf on the Shelf and the tradition is alive and well in their homes. Children ask lots of questions, particularly when it comes to Santa and his elves. What’s the most memorable question a child has asked you about The Elf on the Shelf?
Carol: Most children want to know simple things like:
- Why are the elves sold in stores if they are from Santa? It’s because Santa wants to be sure the elves are adopted into good homes, and only sent to homes where people want them. So, Santa uses ‘Elf Adoption Centres’ and storefronts to be sure a family is screened and will provide a good home.
- Have I ever met and/or do I know Santa Claus? My answer is simple in that “I work for Santa Claus”.
- Sometimes we get very meaningful, heartfelt questions regarding serious matters like divorce. Each situation is different, but my heart is touched each and every time people look to me for answers on the subject.
9. At Gobblefunked, we love hearing about an author’s favourite books as a child. Can you each tell us a little bit about the book that had the greatest effect on you when you were young
Chanda: Green Eggs and Ham and The Grinch That Stole Christmas – I never get tired of either of those stories. Dr Seuss was a genius at storytelling—especially in rhyme
Christa: Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume – I thought it was funny.
Carol: Cinnabar the One O’ Clock Fox by Marguerite Henry. I read it over and over; then I read it to my own children. The whole love of family and love of adventure really struck a chord with me – and still does.
10. With such a busy few weeks lined up as Santa’s helpers, you must be looking forward to lots of mince pies and putting your feet up with a glass of eggnog. What’s next for you all on this festive trip to the UK?
Chanda: I’ll be visiting the Brigg Garden Centre in Lincolnshire for two events on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th respectively, and both Carol and I will be reading the book and meeting children and their families at the flagship John Lewis store on Oxford Street on Sunday 6th at 2pm.
We’re also using the time in London to meet with as many children as possible; I’m going to a primary school in Islington in London and we will be popping in to surprise children at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London to tell them all about the scout elf.
About The Elf on the Shelf
The Elf on the Shelf was written by mother-daughter duo Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, and is based on their own family’s Christmas tradition. After receiving countless rejections from publishing houses across the US, Carol, Chanda and her twin sister Christa Pitts decided to self-publish the book by creating their own company, Creatively Classic Activities and Books (CCA and B, LLC).
Pooling all of their resources, including the proceeds from the sale of a house and the contents of a retirement account, Carol, Chanda and Christa self-published The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition in early 2005, and successfully sold out of the first 5,000 copies. Ten years later, the book has sold more than 8 million copies and continues to grace the top of multiple bestseller lists.