Say hello to baby Esme: the real-life Elf on the Shelf!
At only 9 months old, Esme Cope is too young to understand the magical concept behind the famed holiday toy. Instead, her parents decided to make her an elf and post a photo of the their daughter in a new location to her personal Instagram page every day.
And we must say, the bubbly baby looks really, really adorable in her pointed hat and red suit.
“Esme has such a big personality for having such a little body,” Esme’s mom, Gabi Cope, tells PEOPLE. “I thought maybe photos of her as an elf will help spread some holiday cheer.”
Gabi, a 22-year-old professional photographer, says she was inspired to start the social-picture project after a friend told her that Esme “really lights up a room.”
“As a photographer, I am always taking photos of Esme,” she explains. “So she’s used to it, and was just like, ‘Okay, Mom, I guess you can take another picture of me!’ ”
For the most part, Esme is an “excellent model,” (although she’s recently taken to flinging off her hat) and it usually only takes five or six shots to get the perfect photo in their San Diego home. But if she becomes fussy?
“We bribe her with food!” says Gabi with a laugh. “But mostly she’s so awesome on camera.”
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Gabi says she and husband, Chad, 28, have gotten amazing feedback from followers.
“When Esme’s having a hard day and not up for the costume or a photo, we just think about how these pictures are bringing happiness to others,” she says. “It’s motivating.”
Gabi’s favorite photo so far is one of Esme “reading” the children’s book That’s Not Santa! to her favorite stuffed animals.
“The way she is looking over to the unicorn really makes you think she is telling them about a fake Santa,” she says. “It reminds me of the scene from Elf where Buddy realizes the Santa in the store isn’t the real Santa!”
For her first Christmas, Esme’s parents are surprising her with a toy kitchen (“I can’t wait to see her face when she sees it!” says Cope), puzzles and books.
“We’re hoping to make some lasting memories,” she adds. “And then hopefully she’ll have these photos forever too.”
The new parents plan on printing out all of the Elf on a Shelf-themed photos of Esme and placing them in a scrapbook for her.
“You know, for when she’s older and can understand the photos,” explains Gabi. “Hopefully she’ll laugh at the ridiculousness!”
The Copes hope that one day Esme will have a brother or sister to dress up with for fun holiday photoshoots.
“So someday we can have two elves on the shelf!” says Gabi.