Even today, Christmas Elves (singular–Elf) are known to be a part of Christmas celebrations. The play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare had uncanny reference to elves. Other than this J.R.R Tolkien’s novel written 300 years after Shakespeare’s play also mentions about elves. Presumably, the most popular of all these magical beings are the agile elves that work tirelessly for Santa Claus. As you all know, Santa lives at the North Pole.
Who Are Christmas Elves?
An elf is a supernatural being who looks like a human in Germanic folklore and mythology. In medieval Germanic cultures, people considered them to have some kind of supernatural allure and magical powers. They were believed to possess the power to hinder or help the common man.
Like fairies,Christmas Elves are considered to be miniature shape-drifters. Elf-maidens were incredibly beautiful and young. English male elves appeared as little old men. William Shakespeare’s elves were playful, little-winged beings. They lived in tree trunks, meadows, and forests.
Prominence of Christmas Elves in Folklore
Leprechauns, fairies, and Christmas Elves are very closely connected in folklore. By 1800s, elves and fairies were simply referred to the same magical beings.
Elves later developed a name for mischief and pranks, and peculiar everyday occurrences were often ascribed to them. For instance, deformed babies were called “elf-marked”.
Indeed, our ancestors messed around with elves at their own risk. According to folklore expert, “elves have a bad side. They were notorious for taking revenge on anyone who offends them. Elves may even resort to charm and hold young people under their magic spells. They may also steal bread, milk, cattle, and babies. A shining example is the enchanting “Rip Van Winkle” story”.
How Elves Became Associated With Santa Claus or Christmas?
The “Christmas Elves” are a recent phenomenon popularized in America during the early twentieth and late nineteenth-century. Elves re-entered the lives of the common man through the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. He re-popularised the concept of Christmas elves as human-like beings and human-sized.
Probable reasons behind elves association with Christmas are
- In the 1800s, Scandinavian writers decided to portray elves as Santa’s helper. During this time, popular Scandinavian writers including Rydberg, Toplius, and Thile projected elves as Santa’s true friends. From there on the elves were known as “Christmas elves” and not as “House gnomes”.
- Artists Nystrm and Hansen did their part in turning Christmas elves into Santa Claus’s full-time helper. Now the elves were portrayed as a helper who helps Santa design wonderful gifts.
- In 1856, American novelist Louisa May Alcott introduced Christmas elves in literature through her unpublished book “ Christmas Elves”.
- In 1873, Godey’s Lady Book played a major role in popularizing Santa with elves. For that year’s Christmas issue, their front cover displayed Santa with elves and toys.
- In the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, published in 1823 by Clement Clarke Moore, Santa appeared as a chubby looking right old elf. This further added more mileage to the popularity of elves in modern Christmas celebrations.
- In modern contemporary culture, elves are portrayed as green-clad with pointy hats and pointy ears. This is more popular in Britain, Canada, and in America.
- Valentine D’Arcy Sheldon’s, “The Christmas Tree Elf” narrates how Santa went on to meet his elves, adding further strength to this concept.
- Christmas elves gained, even more, publicity through films. Some of the famous ones are 1932 Disney’s Santa’s Workshop and more recent The Polar Express.
- Some elves were described as one with other important duties. Certain elves take care of Father Christmas’s reindeer, and always ready to fly on Christmas eve.
- Elves are also known to play the role of Santa’s guard keeping his location secret.
- Other groups of elves are described as those who help Santa Claus to prepare the nice and naughty list. These elves are believed to visit each child individually and watch their behavior. Elves are considered as Father Christmas’s secret agent and submit their findings. The good ones receive a nice toy while the ill-mannered gifts were twigs and coal lumps.
- Tales suggest that elves treated well-behaved kids well and discarded those who behaved badly. Moreover, in the United States, little elves with pointed ears are depicted as workers in Santa’s toy workshop.
In conclusion, popular folklore like culture and language is a rapidly evolving phenomenon. However, the concept of elves will linger with us in one way or another.