Elf on the Shelf is everywhere, and I'm not sure if I trust that little snitch - Gaby Soutar

Jingles removed all the Pringles from the tube, then climbed inside and managed to close the hatch on himself.

He was discovered in the early hours of the morning, crumpled, coated in crumbs and smelling Hot & Spicy.

Barney and Rudolph cut up a carrot and a cucumber. “They sliced them right in their hearts,” said my nine-year-old niece, solemnly. Elf and safety points = zero.

Cocoa is better behaved, and made his whole family breakfast. It was just cereal and he’d forgotten to add milk, but kudos for the thought. He lives at my sister-in-law’s house, and seems like the most benign of the Elves on the Shelves that I know. Generally, though, I find their behaviour sinister.

Elf on the ShelfElf on the Shelf
Elf on the Shelf

Around 11 years ago, a press gift landed on my desk from Elf on the Shelf. I gave the book and the matching elf to my sister, who had a new baby at the time. There was minimal interest, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d dropped it off at the charity shop.

My niece was too young for it then. Also, how could this strange character, who resembles a cross between George Fornby, Paul McCartney, Shirley Temple and a pre-nose-job Pinocchio, possibly catch on?

I never could have predicted its popularity, but my sister soon retrieved him from the cupboard and became a relatively early adopter of the trend. Now, 17.5 million households worldwide own one of these freaky floppy-bodied cotton-headed ninny muggins.

The US, where they were conceived back in 2005, is their homeland, but now they’re everywhere. The elf population has exploded, though they all seem to be boys.

There are so many that I’m surprised that Nigel Farage hasn’t launched a festive campaign to have elf-igrants exported back to the North Pole. They could call it Brrrr-exit.

In my sister’s household, they now have three, including the original, Barney, who is the elder statesman and ringleader. They’ve upgraded from a shelf and sleep together under the tree in a shoebox, with their fabric legs in a tangle of pointy knees, white gloves and bootees.

They look innocent enough, but they have a singular mission. Up until Christmas Eve, when they vanish for another year, presumably to hibernate in a nest made from chewed up baubles and tinsel, these ‘scout elves’ report back to Santa every night, with news of whether their owner is naughty or nice.

They are the judge AND jury, when it comes to future gifting potential. There isn’t a ‘not-proven’ verdict where they’re from.

Their allegiance is with the Big Man, rather than those who put a roof over their heads, and don’t admonish them for eating all the Pringles. The phrase ‘snitches get stitches’ only seems to apply if their fabric legs need repair.

I asked one of my nephews how his elf, Jingles, contacts Father Christmas. The bumph says they return to the North Pole every night, but I’m highly sceptical. As a serious journalist, ‘magic’ is not an acceptable answer for me.

“Maybe they report back by walkie-talkie?” I asked him, instantly revealing my age.

“Do you REALLY think that could work between here and the North Pole?” he said incredulously, looking at me like I was some kind of technical cretin, which is probably true. “Satellite phone!” interjected my husband.


I suppose the only way of really knowing is to stay up all night. While we grown-ups continue to work them out, their confusing popularity seems to increase.

Earlier this month, they inspired a viral meme on Twitter. Along with a matching picture of a doctored celebrity, these go something like this: “You’ve heard of Elf on the Shelf, but here’s…” followed by Dolly on a Trolley, or Mariah on a Dryer.

There is endless spin-off merch, including magazines, toys and North Pole Snow Creme Cereal. There’s even a Snoop on the Stoop version available online, featuring an effigy of Mr Doggy Dog, and Jewish countertype, Mensch on a Bench.

As the population increases, they’re getting naughtier.

The original rules were quite simple. They’re supposed to be in a new place each morning, and you’re not allowed to touch them. I picked one up the other day, and it didn’t bite me, even though I was braced for a nip. However, now they seem to get involved in all sorts of shenanigans when they’re not being watched by humans.

This happens at night, because they must be nocturnal, or at least crepuscular, like all of the most cuddly animals, including skunks and spotted hyenas.

On TikTok, there have been some shocking exploits caught on camera. It’s all gone a bit Violent Night. They’ve chopped up kids’ pyjamas and drawn faces on them with Sharpies, ridden on pet dogs, filled Crocs with cereal and been found in compromising positions with Barbies.

Maybe that has something to do with their fecundity. Anyway, not cool, Elves.

I suppose, at least they are helping to get kids into the Christmas spirit. They’re giving parents fewer things to worry about, on the stressful run up to the day. The caregivers can relax, while the elf continues the family tradition involving strange nocturnal activities.

That IS helpful, so maybe I haven’t given them enough credit. In fact, I’ve been a bit mean, and they could be out for revenge.

If you hear that they’ve stuck me on the naughty list, you should know that it’s absolutely not proven.