The Elf on the Shelf—whether you find him cute, annoying or somewhere in between, he's everywhere these days, making the holiday season even more complicated for parents. We did a little investigating on this elusive creature that has become a phenomenon, and discovered a few things we didn't expect.

Did you know where this guy (or gal) came from, or who benefits from his shenanigans? Here are a few things you may not know about that elf on your shelf:

Where Did the Elf Come From?

‘The Elf on the Shelf’ is a relatively new Christmas story and holiday tradition. In 2005, the mother/daughter team Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell wrote the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ story. They believed in the magic they had created so much that despite being rejected from every publishing company they approached, they recruited Carol’s other daughter (and Chanda’s twin sister) to begin their own publishing company. In the first year, they scraped together enough cash to make 5,000 of the $30 box sets and, after marketing them only at small festivals and events in Georgia and North Carolina, sold every last one of them. The company has been growing ever since.

What Has He Done for His Makers?

The tenacity of the elf’s creators has really paid off. Since the 2005 launch, the yearly growth of ‘Elf on the Shelf’ has averaged about 149 percent. Every year’s increased production was paid for by profits from the year before. By 2011, sales had hit $16.6 million. The popularity of the little elf got a giant boost in 2007, when he was photographed with Jennifer Garner and the world wanted to know where she got him. The little elf has even won multiple book awards.

Where Else Can You Find Him?

Yes, you can find your shelf elf in random places around your home, but you can find him in other places as well. First of all, 2005 was not the first time scout elves were sent from Santa to watch over children. A company in Japan has been making “knee-hugger elves” since the 1960s, which were also sent from Santa to see who was being naughty and nice. So, you can find Elfie in Japan if you look. Since November 2011, you can find him in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (see above picture). The sneaky little guy even appeared on television in 2011 when CBS aired a holiday special called ‘The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf’s Story.’ Beyond that, little elves can be found in pretty much every corner of the Internet.

Sometimes He Can Behave Strangely

Basically, the shelf elf’s job is to sit there all day watching how kids behave. Then, at night he magically comes to life and heads to the North Pole to report back to Santa about what he saw. This is how he ends up in a different spot every day. Of course, the elf has a tendency to fight boredom by committing other strange and heinous acts while everyone sleeps—at least this is what we can tell from what we see on the Web. If there isn’t another elf to keep an eye on your elf and report back to Santa, it appears that he will just do whatever he wants.

He Can Be Replaced by a Goat

This last little-known bit of information about ‘Elf on the Shelf’ may come as a bit of a shock. It was certainly a surprise to us. Apparently, your little red spy elf can be replaced by a goat in the garage. We aren’t sure if kids respond better to farm animals than googly-eyed elves, but you won’t have a dull moment all season long if you encourage good behavior by keeping a goat in the garage.

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