Human Journey

The Elf on the Shelf May Be The Snoopiest Christmas Elf But Is Not The Only Yule Elf

“He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake…”

Who knows? Well, Santa of course! But how can he possibly keep up with every kid’s behavior record. According to some sources, he gets that information from a middleman: the Elf on the Shelf.

As Christmas traditions go, Elf on the Shelf, is a relatively new addition. The idea, put forth in the 2005 book by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, is that an elf literally sits on a shelf in the house, its eyes taking in all the naughty (or nice) things that children do. Each evening, when the kids are sleeping, the elf flies to the North Pole, is debriefed by Santa, and then returns before daybreak to continue the vigil.  The book and accompanying elf doll, sold as a package for about $30, have become wildly popular in the U.S., surpassed $16 million in sales last year.

Even though Elf on the Shelf is an American mass marketed tradition, it does have its roots in Christmas lore. In U.S. stories, the elves build the toys in Santa’s workshop. In other countries, the Christmas elf has a different sort of role – and definitely isn’t a tattletale!


Name: Kallikantzari
Activity: These Christmas elves live under the earth, emerging only between Christmas day and the Epiphany (January 6). While above ground, they try to sneak into human homes and scare people.
Legend: Some say that children born during the Christmas season run the risk of becoming a kallikantzari.he Yule Lads live in Mt. Esja in Reykjavik. Their parents own the Christmas cat who eats children who are not lucky enough to receive new clothes before Christmas.


Name: Jólasveinar, the Yule Lads
Activity: These Christmas elves (sometimes called trolls) start coming to town on December 12, one lad a day, then depart starting Christmas day. They leave presents in children’s shoes.
Legend: The Yule Lads live in Mt. Esja in Reykjavik. Their parents own the Christmas cat who eats children who are not lucky enough to receive new clothes before Christmas.


Name: Nisse and Tomte
Activity: Often depicted as the stereotypical garden gnome, nisse and tomte are both versions of benevolent house elves who play pranks throughout the year. During Christmas they bring children presents and are left a bowl of porridge.
Legend: Supposedly only cats can see the nisse.

What other sort of creatures lurk about during the holiday season? Leave your ethnic elf tales in the comments.

-Katia Andreassi



  • Ima Ryma

    The Elf on the Shelf is a ploy
    To get parents to spend more dough,
    To trick the little girl and boy
    Into behaving goodly so.
    The tale of elves at the North Pole,
    Helping Santa make toys and such
    Really has profit as the goal,
    Spending parents – an easy touch.
    And if the elves perform real well,
    Exceeding quotas on toys sold,
    The rest of the year they can dwell
    In luxury and count their gold.

    There’s money to be made in elves.
    They only spend it on themselves.

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