While watching the classic Disney movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” with my granddaughter, an odd thought occurred to me. If the plural of dwarf is dwarfs, why is the plural of elf elves?
This of course changed my entire train of thought to elves, in general. Why? Who knows? Honestly, the little conductor living in my brain switches the tracks of my train of thought rather frequently. I stopped questioning this phenomenon quite some time ago. I simply “go along for the ride” now.
As a child, I once concocted an elf trap, in the hopes of catching a few so I could play with them. “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” had always been, and admittedly still is, one of my favorite movies. The little buggers always look so daggoned happy. What child wouldn’t want to have a few of them as friends?
You see it all began when daddy was reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to me one Christmas Eve. It was a wonderfully illustrated version of the book. When Daddy got to the page with the picture of Santa coming down the chimney, I got rather concerned. “Daddy, we don’t have a chim-a-lee. How will Santa come in our house?” “Well, Gin Gin, don’t you worry. Santa has magic powder. He sprinkles some on the rooftops of homes without chimneys. This makes a big hole appear in the roof. He just jumps down the hole, delivers the presents, then jumps back up the hole when he leaves. Then, he sprinkles more magic powder over the hole and it disappears.” I was so impressed. My daddy knows everything.
When he had finished reading the poem to me, I asked him if the elves from “Rudolph” were coming with Santa. “Yes, Gin Gin. The elves always come along to help Santa out.” “But, Daddy, won’t the elves hurt themselves if they jump down a big hole? They’re so little.” Of course, Daddy knew the answer to this question, as well.
“Elves are so little, Gin Gin. They’re even littler than your brother, Ricky. They can squeeze into a house just about anywhere. In fact, see that little keyhole in the doorknob over there?” “Yes, Daddy. I see it.” “Well, when I was a little boy, I once saw an elf come right through one of those.” “Oh my, Daddy! Did you catch him?” “No. I tried to Gin, but he was just too fast.” “Oh, that’s so sad Daddy. I want to catch one.”
Then, I leaped up off of Daddy’s lap and said, “Daddy, I have an ideal.” I went to the kitchen and grabbed a little brown paper bag out of a drawer. I took the bag to Daddy and told him I needed some candy. Daddy did not want to give me any candy at first. After I told him it was for the elves instead of me, he finally went and got 8 or 10 M&M’s from the candy cabinet for me.
I put the candy in the bag and tried to place it over the doorknob. The bag kept falling off on every attempt. “Oh, Daddy, this is just not going to work.” “Oh, Gin Gin, don’t be so quick to give up.” Daddy grabbed one of my braids and pulled the hair tie off the end of it. He wrapped the hair tie around the bag, and voila! My elf trap was now up and fully functional.
The next morning, I sprung out of bed and dashed into the living room to check my elf trap. I was shocked and dismayed by what I saw. “Oh no! OH NO! OH NO! OH NOOOOOO!” Daddy came running into the living room to see what was the matter. “What’s wrong, Gin Gin?” “Look, Daddy. There’s a big hole in my trap. The elves got away. They all got away.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Gin. Are you sure they got away? Did you look inside the bag?” “No, not yet. Do you think there might be an elf in there, Daddy?” “I don’t know. Let’s look and see, Gin.”
We slowly and quietly crept up to the bag. “What’s in there, Daddy?” “Well, I don’t see any elves. I see a piece of paper or something. Let me look at it and see what it is. It’s a letter…for you.” “For me, Daddy?” “Yes. It says: “Dear Gin, thank you for the yummy candy. Merry Christmas. Your Friend, Elfie.” At the bottom of the letter was a stick figure drawing of a little elf girl. “Oh, Daddy! I have a friend who is an elf? And, her name is Elfie? And, she wrote me a letter?” “Yes. Hey, guess what. There’s something else in the bag, too.” “Oh, Daddy, is it Elfie?” “No. It’s not moving. I think your friend left you a present.”
Daddy then pulled a little tiny rubber Mickey Mouse toy out of the bag. “Oh, my gosh, Daddy! Elfie gave me a Mitchie Mouse.”
I believe I was the happiest little girl in the world that Christmas morning. I lost the Mickey Mouse toy not long after. The memory of Elfie soon faded from my mind, as well. The one thing I hope I never lose is the memory of my father’s love for me. After all, this is the sort of thing that Christmas is all about, isn’t it?
I guess one could say I’ve always been curious about Santa’s little helpers. I mean, what precisely are they? Are they children, perhaps orphans, whom out of the kindness of his heart, Santa has adopted? If so, I should think that working in the toy factory would be rather a cruel fate to bestow upon the wayward tots. I prefer to think of them as miniature adults who, in exchange for room and board as well as all the free cocoa and candy canes they could ever dream of, willingly accept positions as Santa’s toymakers.
It appears my assumptions about elves have been totally wrong all along. I consulted with my trusted research assistant (commonly known as “Google”), to seek answers to my elf questions. I am now more confused than ever.
Apparently, elves have been around, in one form or another, for centuries. One would have to be a historical scholar to fully comprehend the origin of elf mythology. It would also help to be fluent in several different languages because most of the history of elves comes from several different countries. The information has been derived from ancient textbooks. Most of these books are written in foreign and/or archaic languages. To fully understand the true origin of elves would require investing much more time to study them than I have available.
I will simply summarize what little information I do understand. The earliest mention of the belief in elves comes from textbooks found in England, Iceland, and Germany. These micro-munchkin-sized, mistletoe in their caps wearing, sometimes mischievous, merry toy makers are even mentioned in historical medical texts. (Please do pardon my annoying affinity for alliteration…I know not from where it comes.)
In the tenth century, elves were described as being human-like, having magical powers which led some people to believe they were Pagan divinities, and it was widely believed they could either help or harm humans, depending on what sort of mood they may have been in. They were not the cute little green clothed creatures we envision them as being today, either. Historical representations of elves depict them as looking quite different.
Why would elves be mentioned in medical texts? People believed several illnesses were caused by elves. In the twelfth century, many people believed elves were invisible demons who could shoot them with invisible arrows, giving them a disease which was referred to as “elfshot”. It was also widely believed that elves could make cattle and livestock ill.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that elves evolved into the endearing little creatures we all think of at Christmas. As it turns out, Santa himself was the original Christmas elf. In the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (more commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”), Santa was referred to as “a right jolly old elf”. The other elves were added to the modern Christmas myth a short time later.
Believe it or not, there is even controversy over the true identity of the author of this long beloved poem. A man named Clement Clarke Moore took credit for having written it several years after it was originally published. Yet, many say it was actually Henry Livingston, Jr. who wrote this classic literary masterpiece.
The origin of Mr. Claus is also quite cloudy. There are several theories, yet no solid answers as to how the legend of Jolly Old Saint Nick came into being.
Perhaps some things are simply better left a mystery?
I do, however, believe that elves tend to have an ornery streak from time to time. Every parent knows that freeing Barbie and all her friends from their packaging on Christmas morning requires having a degree in rocket science. What is the purpose of stapling plastic tag holders through the inside of the doll’s head and then through the package itself? No matter how close you angle the scissors to the dolls’ hair line, there is always one tiny little piece of plastic poking out of Barbie’s head that somehow manages to scratch your child occasionally.
Ooh, those naughty, naughty little elves. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that Elfie managed to evade capture? One simply never knows.
Thanks for reading. I sincerely wish you all a beastly Blessed Yule, a Monstrously Merry Christmas, a hauntingly Happy Hanukah, and a ghoulishly great whatever other holiday I may have inadvertently neglected to mention. Cheers!