Monday, December 4, 2017

HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS ELVES By Cheri Kay Clifton



During Christmas, does one of these little fellas occupy a place in your home? I’ve always had an elf or two either sitting on our mantel, hanging from a light fixture, or perched on a Christmas tree limb.
Have you ever wondered when and where these tiny folks first appeared and how they evolved into cute little creatures dressed in green or red with large, pointy ears and pointy hats?
After doing some research, I found there is a lot of conjecture as to the origin of elves, although most folklorists believe they date back to ancient history. Ancient Norse mythology refers to the ‘alfar’, also know as “hidden folk.” The Scandinavian and Celtic cultures had myths of fairies, elves and nature spirits. Interestingly enough, most folklore of that time depicted elves as more naughty than nice, more mischievous than merry.
The Scandinavians and Celts weren’t the only Europeans who believed in supernatural species. Germans had their dwarves and little sprites called kobolds. Scots had house spirits called brownies.
The word, “elf,” derives from the ancestral language of German and Old English and dates as far back as 500 A.D.
The transition of elf myth to Christmas tradition is difficult to explain. Clearly originating from pagan roots, many countries participated in seasonal celebrations, many of which took place during the winter solstice. Centuries of elf traditions merged with the traditions of Christmas.
The association of Santa Claus with elves could well be linked from the phrasing of Clement Moore’s 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known today as “The Night Before Christmas.” That poem refers to Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf.”
Godey's Ladies Book
Harper's Weekly
Louisa May Alcott later wrote a book that was called “Christmas Elves” and a popular publication of the times, Godey’s Ladies Book published art work of Santa and his tiny elves. During the 19th Century, many writers were inspired by the elf link to Christmas. In 1857, Harper’s Weekly published a poem called “The Wonders of Santa Claus,” which tells of the elves working for Santa and making toys and sugar plums to fill children’s stockings.


The trademarked “Elf on a Shelf” started in 2005 when author Carol Aebersold self-published a tale of a little elf sent by Santa to report on children’s behavior leading up to Christmas.
Although Santa Claus will always hold top billing, in the USA, Canada, and Great Britain, diminutive elves clad in green and red also add to the magic of children’s Christmas traditions.

9 comments:

  1. When I was a girl, there was a collectible ceramic elf set and my cousin had each of them. They were clad in green. This was an interesting post, Cheri.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, Caroline. Interesting how and when traditions get started.

      Delete
  2. Fascinating. Leave it to me to never wonder about elves...where they came from...why at Christmas...I was never curious. But the more I read of your post, the more intrigued I became. I suppose they are to be loved and cherished..but me? Never gave it a thought.Thanks for the information! And Merry Christmas!

    ReplyDelete
  3. A very Merry Christmas to you and your family, Celia.

    ReplyDelete
  4. When I was a child I loved elves faeries and the rest of the magical little creatures. Thinking back on it Brownies were the good ones and helped around the house, faeries were special, elves were mischievous, and trolls were the worst. (The trolls lived outside under things especially where there was water.) Where did I get such stories? No idea. I don't ever remember seeing a book. It was probably stuff my grandmother told me as a way of making me behave. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. E, you brought back the memory of a storybook I had as a child, Billy Goats Gruff, about a ugly old troll who lived under a bridge.

      Delete
  5. That's some astounding research, Cheri. In Irish folklore the elf is not always "Mister Nice Guy". Sometimes they stole children and women. Elves had magic and sometimes it was dark magic. People would set out bowls of milk and sweets to appease the elves. Hey, I wonder if that's how the tradition of leaving milk and cookies for Santa came in.
    A lovely, Christmas article, Cheri.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And doing a quick research on the tradition of milk and cookies for Santa, many historians report that in the U.S., it began back during the depression era of 1930.

      Delete

Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!