The Origin Of Christmas Elves
Most of us have always grown up never questioning why elves are such a large part of the holidays. Santa's little helpers are everywhere, from adorable Christmas elf decorations to some of our favorite characters in classic Christmas movies. Elves became a huge part of the Christmas tradition fairly early, and much like the reason behind why we decorate with holiday lights during the winter season, their part in the Christmas story can be traced back to ancient myths and folklore. Find out how elves first fit into the Christmas tradition with these fun facts.
Several scholars point to the ancient Norse mythology as one of the first places where elves are mentioned. Characters in a rich mythological tapestry that included gods, fairies and giants, the "hidden folk," as the elf name is roughly translated, were far closer to characters from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings than the happy toymakers in Santa's workshop. These mythical characters were likely used to explain the unknown conundrums and mysteries of the natural world before science and logic could unravel them, and were depicted as dangerous almost as often as they were described as friendly.
Elf-like characters continued to appear in mythology deep into the medieval period. Yet, unlike some of the revered elves from earlier myths, the characters took a hard right turn toward the dark side. Popular themes like the everlasting duel between good and evil often placed elves in the company of demons and evil spirits, represented as deadly and devious. Interestingly, their transformation eventually split sometime later, picking that devious part of their character and explaining it in more whimsical terms. Thus the elf became known more as a clever creature or trickster.
Jolly Old Elf
The elf's centuries-long transition from evil to innocent would have been an important reason behind their eventual partnership with a merry, gift-giving character like Santa Claus. An early description of Santa Claus, and perhaps one of the most influential in Christmas history, came from Clement Clarke Moore's poem we now know as 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. A careful read reveals that Santa Claus was described as acting like a "jolly old elf" while delivering gifts to a family on Christmas Eve. It can't be verified that this very tiny description was the reason why elves were forever linked to Santa Claus, although that could very well be an explanation.
As the decades continued and the whimsical Christmas stories expanded, Santa and his faithful elves became inseparable. Fittingly, the elves found themselves at the North Pole, closer to the original Norse territory than anywhere else, even if in that time they were drastically changed. More poems, Christmas stories and books followed Clarke's classic Christmas portrait. Finally, the elves started to look like the friendly little holiday helpers we've always known; the characters from our favorite movies and Christmas specials working hard to create fun toys for children.
Elves are even more popular than Santa nowadays. The cute Christmas helpers are now used in all kinds of holiday displays, popping up on lawns alongside solar-powered walkway lights, on the occasional holiday card, not to mention as decorative accents for the home, particularly the kitchen or the kids' rooms. Given where the elf characters first originated, as well as that weird, darker transformation in the medieval period, it seems we have Christmas to thank for giving us the happy, hardworking little helpers that usher in that fun holiday spirit at the end of the year.