|Elf Satisfied: This Christmas, Deirdre’s |
own, personal elf has a delicious
present waiting for her!
Aside from the obvious link with Christmas, why do you suppose these three characters have been linked together throughout history? I've always believed that they sprang from history fully-formed, woven together in a timeless story of love and giving and holiday fun. But this actually isn't true.
Santa Claus has been a part of US tradition since the early nineteenth century. Based on Saint Nicholas, the secret gift giver, we created him from a mix of European Christmas traditions. In her unpublished story entitled Christmas Elves, Louisa Alcott gave us the first yule-time elves in 1850. The elves appear to have first joined Santa in his workshop in a Christmas issue of Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book, a United States magazine that was published in Philadelphia and had a circulation of over 70,000. Godey's popularized the idea of elves helping Santa prepare for Christmas with a front cover illustration of Santa in his workshop, surrounded by toys and elves. The picture apparently bore the caption, "Here we have an idea of the preparations that are made to supply the young folks with toys at Christmas time".
Much of popular fiction portrays Santa himself as an elf. In the poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Santa is described as a "jolly old elf". In the first half of the 19th century, Scandinavian culture tied Christmas presents to elves when they associated the elves with their Tomte, a small, humanoid race that protected children in their sleep.
But there might be one other connection there. In the way of a child's drawing, where the father is pictured larger than life, the idea of a big, fat elf being the leader among a bunch of smaller elves in the business of Christmas makes sense. If you look at the origins of the Santa figure, Saint Nicholas the secret gift giver being the most well-known, the larger-than-life history might contribute to Santa being portrayed as a much larger elf. Or, it could boil down to something as simple as perception. Children perceive someone who is as important to them as Santa Claus to be much bigger than they are.
So we've made the link between Santa and the elves. Now what about the reindeer? That one's a little tougher. Clement C Moore's 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas (also known as The Night Before Christmas or 'Twas the Night Before Christmas) has been credited for the idea of eight flying reindeer pulling Santa's sled. However, there is possibly another connection. Reindeer (or Caribou) live in the areas where the Santa Claus legend originated. They predominate in the snowy regions of the northern United States and in Scandinavia. In fact, the word “caribou” comes from a Native American word for “snow scraper”. So, in snowy environs, if Santa was looking for a creature to propel his flying sled, the reindeer would probably seem an obvious choice. And anyone who has seen a deer "fly" over a fence would understand the concept of flying reindeer.
So that links Santa and the elves and Santa and the Reindeer. What about the elves and the reindeer? To answer that I'll simply ask you this question: Who cares for Santa's flying reindeer? Well, the elves do of course.
Snap! Link closed. #:0)
Whatever the origin of Santa Claus and his helpers, one thing is sure. He embodies our better natures and inspires us to embrace the kindness in our souls for at least part of every year. And for that alone I'm glad he's part of our culture.
Merry Christmas everybody!
Fun Christmas tidbit: In Sweden, prior to the influence of St. Nicholas, the job of giving out gifts was done by the Yule Goat. Man, am I glad I'm not Swedish! I'm thinking it wasn't a lump of coal that naughty Swedish kids got in their stockings! If you know what I mean... LOL