Elves are known to be tiny, dwarf-like creatures, either male or female, with pointed ears. They are youthful but immortal and have magical powers that can control what you see and experience. Their abodes are said to be underground, in forests, or in springs and wells, but no one really knows about it because they keep their location a secret! It is also believed that on the 6th of January the elves light up their torches and come down from their secret village in the mountain to play in a hidden field to celebrate the last day of Christmas.
But do you know who these elves are? Are they real creatures or just a myth? What is the story behind their origin? What is the secret behind them?
Elves have a fascinating history that is associated with Germanic paganism. Elves are originally seen to be the creation of Germanic paganism who thought them to be the creatures of light who lived in the heavens. Elves have been depicted as male or female, tiny or dwarf-like, youthful and immortal with magical powers. Later they were often referred to as living underground, in forests, springs and wells. Elves generally were magical beings who could control what people see as well as experience. Elves and fairies are also highly associated with the mushroom "Amanita Muscaria", also referred to as "magic mushrooms" not only in art but in Psychedelic experiences.
Centuries ago, in the pagan times, Scandinavian people believed that elves are house gnomes who guarded their homes against evil. If you were good, the elves were good to you, but if you were bad, the mischievous elves would play tricks on you. Although these gnomes mostly were benevolent, they could quickly turn nasty when not properly treated, so it is told. Some of the tricks they enjoyed playing were giving you nightmares by sitting on your head while you were dreaming, tangling your hair as you slept, making your milk turn sour, and stealing your sausages. Folks believed that if they left a bowl of porridge on the doorstep at night, the elves would be happy and not subject them to their ornery antics. Throughout the centuries, they were either loved or loathed. Some people even believed them to be trolls and cannibals. The perception of gnomes largely depended on whether a person was naughty, or nice.
By the mid-1800's the true purpose of the elves was revealed by the Scandinavians. Elves - already a tradition associated with story telling and magic, assumed a new significance in the mid-1800's and their true intention began to be held as nothing else but to help Father Christmas (Santa Claus). This was the handiwork of the popular Scandinavian writers of the day. At this time, elaborate Christmas festivals regained popularity and Scandinavian story writers such as Thile, Toplius, Rydberg sketched the elves' true role in modern life: fairies that are somewhat mischievous, but the true friends and helpers of Father Christmas. It is during this period when the elves began to be referred to as the "Christmas elves", or simply "elves", and not "house gnomes" anymore. Artists such as Hansen and Nystrm completed the picture of elves for us. It is now began to be held that the elves help Santa design and make the wonderful toys and gifts he brings to children. They were said to have other duties as well. Some elves take care of Santa's reindeer and keep his sleigh in good condition, ready to fly through the skies on Christmas Eve. Others help Santa keep his naughty and nice list in order, and some elves guard the secret location of Santa's village. Elves make sudden appearances in the days before Christmas, to keep an eye on each children and see which of them are behaving well and obeying their parents. They are believed to be Santa's secret agents and report their findings back to him. Children who are unkind and misbehave have their names added to the naughty list and may wake up Christmas morning to find their filled with lumps of coal or bundles of twigs!
The elves could be helpful now. Their mischievousness, however, was still evident in the variety of stories told about them. Tales suggested that how you were treated by the elves depended on whether the person was thought to be naughty or nice! Particularly in America, the diminutive, green with pointy ears type are depicted as Santa's helpers making toys in his workshop at the North Pole.
At one stage it was thought that the elves live in Father Christmas' (Santa's) village in North Pole. However, in 1925 it was discovered that there are no reindeer in the North Pole but there are lots in Lapland, Finland. Since reindeers draw the sleigh of Santa Claus, he must be living in an area, where there are large number of these animals available. Since then, it is believed that there is a secret village with a secret passage, somewhere in Lapland, where Santa, his wife and his team of elves live. Nobody has actually seen their village because the passage to it is a secret that is known only to Father Christmas and the elves. But people believe that it is somewhere on the Korvatunturi mountain in the Savukoski county of Lapland, Finland, which is on the Finnish-Russian border.
Some people that Santa employs six elves, while others think that he has nine elf assistants. Others think that there are as many as 13 elves living with Santa to help him. Elves are the children of Gryla and Leppaludi and are very clever. They help Santa to design toys and process requests of children that are sent to them through snail mail or emails. The popular Western names of the Christmas elves helping Santa Claus are:
1. Alabaster Snowball (Administrator of the Naughty & Nice list).
2. Bushy Evergreen (Inventor of the magic toy-making machine).
3. Pepper Minstix (Guardian of the secret of where Father Christmas's village is located).
4. Shinny Upatree (The oldest friend of Santa and the cofounder of the secret village in Lapland).
5. Sugarplum Mary (Head of the Sweat Treats, she is also known as Mary Christmas. She is an assistant to Mrs Claus and helps her in the kitchen).
6. Wunorse Openslae (Designer of Father Christmas's sleigh and responsible for its maintenance. He also looks after the reindeers and it is believed that his reindeers reach speeds faster than Christmas tree lights).
The ancient folklores of Iceland mention elves by the names of Askasleikir, Bjugnakraekir, Faldafeykir, Gattathefur, Giljagaur, Gluggagaegir, Ketkrokur, Kertasnikir, Pottasleikir, Skyrjarmur, Stekkjarstaur, Stufur and Thvorusleikir. Other names of Santa's elves that can be found are Baggalutur, Bjalmans barnid, Bjalminn sjalfur, Bitahaengir, Frodusleikir, Laekjaraegir, Raudur, Redda, Sledda, Steingrimur, Syrjusleikir, Tifill and Tutur.
According to some legends and post-Christian folklore especially in Europe, elves are mischievous pranksters who make special appearances during the lead up to Christmas. For example "Albtraum" is a German word for nightmare which also means "elf dream". Earlier the word meant "elf pressure" as it was believed that nightmares are a result of an elf sitting on the dreamer's head! Elves also were believed to braid people's hair while sleeping, make milk sour and run off with sausages. People of Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway believed that a bowl of porridge left out would prevent elves from playing tricks on people especially during the festive season! Today, elves associated with Christmas are symbols to remind children to be good and not naughty!