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The elves of Christmas

Posted: Monday, Dec 24th, 2012

Ed Close

We all hear the tales of Santa Claus or Father Christmas. We’re all very familiar with this Christmas story, but why are there elves involved? In thinking of what to write in this column for the Christmas season, I wondered why these woodland and forest folk would be included in the stories of Christmas, since they really had nothing to do with that particular time of year.

I investigated the little people and found out why they show up on cards and wrapping paper and pictures of Santa’s workshop.

The elves that work in Santa’s shop are actually fairly new to the tale. They are said to wear mostly red and green and make toys for a living, but that wasn’t always the case. Like the rest of us, the elves had other jobs at other times.

It is said, and has been for a very long time, these wee folk live underground in forests near springs or wells, and they keep their homes secret from the rest of us. That bit of their history comes from Germanic paganism. In that particular belief, the elves were believed to be creatures of light who also live in the heavens. These beings were magical. They could control what people see, as well as experience.

Centuries ago, in pagan times, Scandinavian people believed elves were house gnomes. These gnomes guarded people’s homes against evil. If you were good, the elves were good to you, but if you happened to be bad, the elves would play tricks on you and generally make your life miserable.

Folks believed a bowl of porridge left on the doorstep for the elves at night would keep the elves happy and stop their mischief.

In the early 1800s the true purpose of elves finally came to light, their true intention was held to be nothing less than helping Father Christmas. These diminutive people had jobs such as sleigh upkeep and repair, reindeer tending, good and bad list writing and monitoring, and the building of toys and trinkets.

In 1873, the Christmas of “Godey’s Lady’s Book” featured an illustration of Santa with his elves and a pile of toys. This publication was very popular at the time, and the illustration propelled the elves into the public eye as an integral part of Christmas. They have remained a major part of the Father Christmas story to this day.

The constant use of red and green by these small folk also has meaning. Many early Christians were originally pagans who celebrated Yule. When these people began to celebrate Christmas they brought many of their Yule traditions with them, among them the Yule log and the Yule colors red, green, silver and gold. The red also signifies the blood of Christ and the green signifies eternal life, due to the fact this is the color of evergreen trees.

Whatever your beliefs, I hope you have a most wonderful Christmas and the elves decide you’re good rather than bad. I don’t believe any of us needs any more mischief in 2012.

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