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 a Christmas-themed story, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and nice. It describes elves visiting children between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, after which they return to the North Pole until the next holiday season. The Elf on the Shelf comes in a keepsake box that features a hardcover picture book and a small soft toy in the form of a pixie scout elf.

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 balloon measures 64 feet long, 46 feet tall and 28 feet wide and required 90 handlers to help him make it down the Parade pipe. When asked about the balloon's inception and creation, twins Christa Pitts and Chanda Bell and their mom Carol Aebersold revealed that they had a dream. A dream of seeing 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,” recalls Christa Pitts. The trio would work closely with Macy's throughout 2012 to ensure that the Elf on the Shelf balloon would be a sure crowd-pleaser during its debut.

After months of hard work, a 64-foot long Elf on the Shelf balloon would take its first test flight in early November 2012, alongside fellow newcomers Hello Kitty and Papa Smurf, to much fanfare. Since the balloon's debut, he has become a modern-day Parade staple, having made nine consecutive appearances as of 2020.

The scout elf's presence in the Parade would once again grow with the addition of a float in 2018 based on the franchise spin-off, Elf Pets. A costumed character of the the Elf on the Shelf, also known as Chippey, appeared on the float alongside his female counterpart, Snowflake.

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. However, rising cases of COVID-19 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 and Hoda Kotb.

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