Dec 23

The Christmas Season

Elf (Christmas)
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Santa's Elves
Curious Art Lab
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"He keeps a great many elves at work,
All working with all their might,
To make a million of pretty things,
Cakes, sugar-plums, and toys,
To fill the stockings, hung up you know
By the little girls and boys."

~ The Wonders of Santa Claus, Harper's Weekly, 1857

Elves as fixtures of folklore and supernatural powers date back to pre-Christian times, but with a darker and more sinister character. By the medieval period, they were often described as diminutive creatures that were believed to cause illnesses in humans and animals, a condition sometimes referred to as being "elf-shot." Beliefs in elves causing illness remained prominent in early modern Scotland, where elves were viewed as supernaturally powerful people who lived invisibly alongside everyday rural people. But by the mid 19th century, they had been romanticized into the friendly subordinates of Santa, making toys and gifts for children, looking after the reindeer and keeping the sleigh in good condition. Today, they now are in charge of keeping Santa’s "naughty and nice" list and guard the secret location of Santa’s village!

In modern traditional folklore, a Christmas elf is a diminutive creature that lives with Santa Claus in the North Pole and acts as his helper. Christmas elves are often depicted as clad in green or red with pointy ears and pointy hats.

Even Santa Claus himself is described as such in Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, "He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf."

Elves as fixtures of folklore and supernatural powers date back to pre-Christian times, but with a darker and more sinister character.   By the  medieval period, they were often described as diminutive creatures  that were believed to cause illnesses in humans and animals, a condition sometimes referred to as being "elf-shot."  Beliefs in elves causing illness remained prominent in early modern Scotland, where elves were viewed as being supernaturally powerful people who lived invisibly alongside everyday rural people.  But by the mid 19th century, they had been romanticized into the friendly subordinates of Santa,  making toys and gifts for children, looking after the reindeer and keeping the sleigh in good condition. They now also keep Santa’s "naughty and nice" list in order, and guard the secret location of Santa’s village!

This tartan, by designer Carol A.L. Martin, recalls Santa and his little helpers.

The image of the elves in the workshop was popularised by Godey's Lady's Book, with a front cover illustration for its 1873 Christmas Issue showing Santa surrounded by toys and elves with the caption, "Here we have an idea of the preparations that are made to supply the young folks with toys at Christmas time." Amongst other tasks, Santa's elves are often said to take care of his reindeer."

During this time Godey's was immensely influential in the spread of Christmas traditions, having shown the first widely circulated picture of a modern Christmas tree on the front cover of its 1850 Christmas issue.

 

Prior to the influence of St. Nicholas in Sweden, the job of giving out gifts was done by the Yule Goat.

In different countries, Santa's helpers go by different names.

 

In Iceland they are the Yule Lads who between December 12 and 24, visit homes each day to leave presents and play tricks on children.

 

In Belgium and the Netherlands, Santa's companion is called Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). 

 

In Germany, St. Nicholas' companion servant is known as Knecht Ruprecht, and in Luxembourg he is known as Hoesecker ( a fearsome character who comes with a sack on his back and a rod or switch in his hand).

For something completely silly, if you would like to find out your Santa's Elf name, you can use the elf name generator.   Click the elves to find your elf name!

Officially registered tartan graphics on this site courtesy of The Scottish Tartans Authority.  Other tartans from talented tartan artists may also be featured.

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