The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children's picture book, written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. The book tells the heartwarming story of the scout elves sent by Santa with a mission to keep watch over children during the holiday season. When an elf is adopted by a family and given a name, it receives its Christmas magic, which grants the elf the power to observe all the family fun each day during the holiday season and then fly back to Santa’s workshop with a report each night. When children wake up the next morning, they race to see where their elf has decided to sit for the day ahead.
The Elf on the Shelf comes inside a keepsake box with a beautifully illustrated, watercolor board book and a special elf from the North Pole tucked inside.
History with the Macy's Parade
The Elf on the Shelf made his Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade debut in the 2012 Parade in the form of a giant helium balloon. The six-story tall balloon was a dream of the book's authors, who hoped to make the North Pole scout from Elf on the Shelf become the first storybook character selected from an independent publisher fly in the Parade since Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit (self-published in 1901) sailed down Sixth Avenue on the way to Herald Square nearly two decades prior.
“When we got together at that time to discuss our dream for the brand, seeing the Elf in the parade was the pinnacle,” recalled Christa Pitts. The trio would work closely with Macy's and their Parade Studio throughout 2012 to ensure that the Elf on the Shelf balloon would be a sure crowd-pleaser during its debut.
Construction on the balloon began in spring 2012 at Raven Aerostar headquarters in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and would take eight designers six months to help the world's most famous scout elf reach larger-than-life reality. The hard work culminated in a 64-foot long, 46-foot tall and 28-foot wide balloon replica of the Elf on the Shelf, who held his legs close as if sitting on a shelf.
The Elf on the Shelf balloon would make several appearances in the annual procession following his premiere flight, becoming a Parade staple and fan-favorite balloon character. In 2018, a float based on the Elf Pets spin-off franchise debuted, depicting scout elves Chippy and Snowflake celebrating the Christmas season with arctic friends.
The Elf on the Shelf balloon was originally planned to appear in the reimagined 2020 Parade, being flown down 34th Street with a five-vehicle framework as a result of reduced Parade participants. However, rising cases of COVID-19 in New York City throughout the fall of 2020 caused the balloon, alongside many of its contemporaries, to be demoted to a pre-recorded appearance. Archival footage of the balloon from its 2017, 2018 and 2019 appearances were used, dubbed over by commentary provided by The TODAY Show’s Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker.
Following the Elf on the Shelf's virtual 2020 appearance, the balloon was retired. In total, the Scout Elf in the sky made nine consecutive appearances of ringing in the holiday season.