Carly Kerby, a mom of four girls, doesn't have the greatest track record as the Tooth Fairy, but it was another family tradition that nearly did her in: The Elf on the Shelf.
In case you've been hitting the egg nog a little too hard all these years, the elf is a big seller. It involves a picture book and a stuffed, felt elf that serves as a scout for Santa and has to be moved stealthily every night, traditionally around Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.
The elf's mission? To report back to the boss in red on who's been naughty or nice. After eight years on the market, more than 6 million of the kits, book and elf, have been sold, and it has climbed high on best-seller lists, with two sexes and different skin tones now available.
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Kerby, in Salt Lake City, thought it sounded like fun when she took it on last Christmas.
"My first epic mistake was not knowing that a female elf existed," she said. "My daughters were devastated that their elf was a boy and not a girl. Heaven forbid we have anything boy-related in our house. It went downhill from there."
She forgot to move it for days and days. And her youngest, at 18 months, loves to grab it King Kong-style, a no-no by elf rules.
"Everyone here freaks out because they read the book and it says if you touch it the magic is gone," Kerby said. "It really creates a lot of drama, but with four daughters, everything is drama!"
While, clearly, millions of people enjoy their elves on shelves, a backlash has bubbled up. There are anti-elf rants on Facebook and raunchy, bawdy and bloody visuals on Tumblr and Instagram. One photo circulating shows a green Grinch hat tied to the head of a large dog with one of those damning cardboard signs around his neck that reads: "I ate your Elf on the Shelf."
Kim Boerman in Charleston, S.C., has pulled hard elf duty with her 12-year-old daughter. There was the time it barely escaped their German shepherd, Myka, and another time it fell from the chandelier during dinner as it hung upside down.
She procured a doctor's prescription that states: "To Elf, address North Pole. Doctors orders: Take it easy, don't move around a lot ... rest!" Boerman and her husband even threw in a head bandage for the little guy before planting him under their Christmas tree with a toy ambulance for the duration.
Kerby said she had tons on her holiday to-do list before adding the elf, but mishaps aside, "it's quite fun for our little girl and a nice tradition."
The Elf on the Shelf — you get to name it — was born in 2005 as a self-published labor of love from Carol Aebersold and daughters Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts, co-founders of Creatively Classic Activities and Books. The company is dedicated to promoting and distributing the storybook and elf, recently launching its first sequel, a birthday elf and book. A dollar for every birthday kit sold goes to a charity working to provide clean drinking water in more than 20 countries.
"Every year we continue to be amazed and blessed with the fan response," Aebersold said in a statement, put out after their creation recently claimed the No. 1 spot on USA Today's best-seller list for the first time.
Other companies have gotten in on the game, including the makers of "Maccabee on the Mantel," which includes a snuggly plush soldier for Hanukkah. And Aebersold's company now offers games, a movie, elf couture, an elf registry online and elf adoptions in select locations around the country.
Meaghan B. Murphy isn't ho-ho-hoing. As deputy editor of SELF magazine, the busy and tired mom of three kids — ages 3, 20 months and 4 months — is on elf duty with her husband.
"The elf is the bane of my December," she said. "Her name is Arielle. She wears a Target-exclusive sparkly tutu that cost like 15 bucks. She has two. I can barely remember to brush my teeth, let alone hide her nightly or do an outfit change."
The fact that she forgot to move the elf usually hits around 3 a.m., while she's feeding her newborn. "At which point I run downstairs only to discover that I can't reach her because my husband who is 6-foot-3 hid her the night before on the ledge of crown molding 12 feet high," Murphy said. "I then peg her with things in the dark until I finally knock her down, at which point I hide her someplace glaringly lame."
She knows an elf supermom or two. Their Facebook feeds are hard to ignore, Murphy said.
"I have a friend who staged a marshmallow snowball fight between the elf and 'Monsters Inc.' (characters)," she said. "Honestly, I don't think my kids give a crap. They're more excited about the chocolates in their Advent calendars."