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Christmas A to Z

Learn interesting, unusual, unique and useful facts and tips about Christmas and the winter holiday season, in America and around the world.

Where Did Santa’s Elves Come From?

I

t kind of depends. Back in pagan times the wintertime gift-giver traditions often revolved around diminutive creatures – some were more human-like than others. In Sweden the gift-giver was a goat … but a small one. Elves over the years have come in "good" and "bad" varieties, often competing with or warring with each other. At one time they weren’t even small but normal-sized and possessed with magical powers.

When St. Nicholas started becoming a giver of gifts to children he often traveled with a companion who was much more like himself, and occasionally almost a mirror image – and who was the dispenser of coal instead of gifts to naughty children.

By the time the 19th century rolled around, Clement Moore described Santa himself as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf..." which confused a lot of people. It took until nearly the end of the century for Godey’s Ladies Book to feature a Christmastime cover on which were elves helping Santa make toys for good little girls and boys. Godey’s was widely circulated and is credited with creating, if not simply recording, many of our existing Christmas traditions.

Once the idea of a jolly Santa, aided by workshop-working elves, caught on then writers and illustrators had much more to work with. By the middle of the 20th century Santa’s elves had developed personalities of their own. In the TV movie about Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer, there’s one memorable elf named Hermie.

Elves have even evolved into movie stardom– Elf with Will Farrell comes to mind.

So, whether you’ve been naughty or nice somewhere an elf is involved in gifting you with presents – or a lump of coal.

Written by Dianne Weller
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