The scout elf from "The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition" has made its way into more than 8 million homes, monitoring kids' behavior to report back at Santa's headquarters, garnering an impressive social media following.
But it started as a family tradition before becoming an "American cultural phenomenon" after the book's 2005 release.
Carol Aebersold's family passed down the idea for a book from her childhood — along with a '50s-era elf called Frisbee, Allison Slater Tate wrote for Today.
When Aebersold's daughter, Chanda Bell, sought to continue the Elf on the Shelf story as a new mom, the mom-daughter duo realized it could be something more, Today noted.
"I was a new mom myself, and I was like, 'Hey, Mom, I need an elf that talks to Santa too. There was nothing like that available," Bell told Today. "My mom was able to write from her point of view and I was able to write from a child's point of view."
Initial attempts to publish "Elf on the Shelf" failed.
However, Bell told Today the intimacy of the family sharing its tradition won parents' hearts across the U.S., first through door-to-door sales, ultimately selling over 8 million copies.
Matthew J. Belvedere detailed for CNBC how Elf on the Shelf works: Bell and Aebersold have packaged the book with an elf doll, which Santa "has sent" to watch kids' behavior.
The elf gets its Christmas magic once named, and parents often hide it in a new location every night.
According to CNBC, kids "are told they can't touch the elf because it'll lose its magic."
As chronicled through social media, some elves travel.
Regardless of how parents deploy the elf, though, it's no longer a tradition kept among Aebersold's family members, Bobby Bozeman wrote for Times Daily. Mom Melanie Hester told the Daily of how Elf on the Shelf adds to her kids' Christmas experience.
"What has been the most fun throughout the years is hearing them talk with their friends comparing stories of what their friends do," the Daily quoted Hester as saying. "As soon as Thanksgiving comes around she starts wondering when (the elf) is coming. He usually brings Christmas pajamas or maybe a little treat like that."