By Kathy Gilbert
At Signal Mountain's elementary schools, elves create so much mischief one teacher has an "elf box" for storage and another has banned them.
"Part of me feels bad, and another part feels 'Yeah, I'm disturbing the classroom environment,' " said Nancy McCaffrey, a Signal Mountain mom and social worker, and owner of Adopt-an-Elf.
Four years ago, Mrs. McCaffrey "adopted" her first elfin friend. Today, her Web-based business spreads elfin "mischief" across the country.
An Adopt-an-Elf kit includes a 14-inch custom-designed elf, magic dust, adoption certificate and personal letter from Santa. The $49.95 package purports to be shipped from the North Pole.
Children sprinkle magic dust over their elf at night, then awake to discover the elf's "mischief."
Elves have been said to paint their Dad's toenails pink, build shoe pyramids, ride in backpacks to school, climb Christmas trees, wrap bookshelves in toilet paper, dye the milk, swipe the Christmas candy and even steal the family car. Sometimes they bring children presents, too.
"Truthfully, my husband has been so upset with how crazy they've been this year (the elves painted a mustache on him without his knowledge), so they've been very helpful the last few nights," quipped elf buyer Sandy Mitchum, a Signal Mountain mother of four.
Elves wear warm, cotton clothes and each is unique, she said.
"I wanted it to look like nothing a child could see at a toy store. Kids would talk; they'd say: "That's not magic -- you got that at Wal-Mart," Mrs. McCaffrey said.
The elves were devised because Mrs. McCaffrey worried her three children would lose their belief in Santa.
And as a social worker, she said she hopes the elves would bring families together.
"Christmas is a happy time of year, but it's exhausting. This is a fun family tradition during the Christmas season," she said.
Mrs. McCaffrey refused to discuss sales figures. She also declined to say how Santa's elves are delivered.
But sales seem perky. In 2004 and 2005, customers spread the news of elves by word-of-mouth.
In 2006, Mrs. McCaffrey launched a Web site. Her sales quadrupled, she said, without search engine placement or advertising. She advertises her product only through e-mailed customer newsletters and at local craft shows.
Still, elves sold out this year. Customers can buy for 2008, or enroll children in "Club Elf" ($12.95) for 2008. Club members receive letters from their elf throughout the year, and a birthday present.
Business is so steady, Mrs. McCaffrey plans to hire employees next season.
"I don't know how you find a little group of grannies that want to make elves, but I just can't look at any more elf hair," she said.
Yet her goal is to keep the company small. Her motto is not profitability, she said, but "believe."
"It's all geared toward believability," Mrs. McCaffrey said.