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Mon Dec 3, 2018, 11:56 AM

FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 3: Louisa May Alcott and the Creation of Santa's Elves

Wiki tells us:

In American, Canadian, Irish, and British cultures, a Christmas elf is a diminutive elf that lives with Santa Claus at the North Pole and acts as his helper. Christmas elves are often depicted as green or red clad with large, pointy ears and pointy hats. Santa's elves are often said to make the toys in Santa's workshop and take care of his reindeer, among other tasks


and we know that Clement Clark Moore described Santa as "He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf." in his 1823 poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (more commonly known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas" ), but where did the idea of Santa's elves come from?

The answer? Louisa May Alcott (Little Women).

Santa’s elves, instrumental in getting all the toys made each year, were first mentioned by Louisa May Alcott in her book “Christmas Elves” finished in 1855. From her journal of 1855: “Finished fairy book in September.” “October. May illustrated my book, and tales called “Christmas Elves.” Better than “Flower Fables.” Now I must try to sell it.”

The book was illustrated by her little sister, May. Despite never finding a publisher, the idea caught on.

Two short years later, in 1857, Harper’s Weekly published a poem called “The Wonders of Santa Claus” which tells how Santa “keeps a great many elves at work/ All working with all their
might/ To make a million of pretty things/ Cakes,
sugar-plums, and toys/ To fill the stockings, hung
up you know/ By the little girls and boys.”

In 1876 Louisa May Alcott returned to the subject of Santa’s elves in a poem entitled “Merry Christmas:”

In the rush of early morning,
When the red burns through the gray,
And the wintry world lies waiting
For the glory of the day,
Then we hear a fitful rustling
Just without upon the stair,
See two small white phantoms coming,
​Catch the gleam of sunny hair.

Are they Christmas fairies stealing
Rows of little socks to fill?
Are they angels floating hither
With their message of good-will?
What sweet spell are these elves weaving
As like larks they chirp and sing?
Are these palms of peace from heaven
​That these lovely spirits bring?

Rosy feet upon the threshold,
Eager faces peeping through,
With the first red ray of sunshine,
Chanting cherubs come in view:
Mistletoe and gleaming holly,
Symbols of a blessed day,
In their chubby hands they carry,
​Streaming all along the way.

Well we know them, never weary
Of this innocent surprise;
Waiting, watching, listening always
With full hearts and tender eyes,
While our little household angels,
White and golden in the sun,
Greet us with the sweet old welcome, -
“Merry Christmas, every one!”

Note: This poem is in the public domain.

another early toy-making elf promoter was Godey’s Lady’s Book

Published from 1830 to 1878, Godey’s Lady’s Book was the most widely circulated magazine in the years before the Civil War. It published the first widely circulated picture of a decorated Christmas tree
and in 1873 it published a front cover engraving showing Santa Claus surrounded by elves at work.
Called “The Workshop of Santa Claus”, “Santa is shown directing his elves in the making of toys. We see dolls,
sports equipment, animals, musical instruments and the like. Little birds sit on the numbers of the 1873
date.” The caption was “Here we have an idea of the preparations that are made to supply the young folks
with toys at Christmas time.”


And the final early promoter:

Austin Thompson's 1876 work "The House of Santa Claus, a Christmas Fairy Show for Sunday Schools".

Many people credit Norman Rockwell, but he was working many decades after these earlier sources. This one is from 1922.

Just to keep things complicated, Christmas Elves also have a Scandinavian origin too. I'll write about them tomorrow.

(For an explanation of my advent project and a link to last years posts, see
https://www.democraticunderground.com/10181152160 )

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Reply FSogol's 2018 Advent Calendar Day 3: Louisa May Alcott and the Creation of Santa's Elves (Original post)
FSogol Dec 2018 OP
Squinch Dec 2018 #1
blue neen Dec 2018 #2

Response to FSogol (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2018, 11:11 PM

1. Who knew! Go Louisa! Can't wait for day 4!

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Response to FSogol (Original post)

Mon Dec 3, 2018, 11:36 PM

2. Love the poem by Alcott, "Merry Christmas"!

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