Santa Claus' little helpers. They vary from story to story, but they have a tendency to be short. How short and the reason for shortness varies. Some are so short they live in a Mouse World or they may just be 3 feet tall. They may simply be dwarfs (of the real life variety, not that kind), or they can be slow-aging and resemble children despite being Really 700 Years Old. They are cheerful and love working for Santa and are great with children. Other times, they are a mischievous and somewhat disgruntled work force griping about the Boss and hiding the beer at work and so on...
They usually dress in bright green and other festive colors and wear pointed shoes and hats. Despite living in one of the coldest parts of the world, they seem very poorly dressed and are hardly ever seen with coats. Contrast this with their boss, who is hardly ever seen without his large red coat and boots. Of course, this is probably because Santa works outside, in the cold night air, while elves work inside, in the warm toy-factory. Santa himself is sometimes described as a "Jolly Old Elf" or implied to have elven blood.
This trope can extend to other elves who do not follow the typical portrayals of a fantasy elf.
Interestingly, Christmas Elves are not actually elves in all countries. For instance, the French version of the Santa Claus mythos calls them "lutins" (the most widespread type of Little People, essentially comparable to Leprechauns without the Irish stereotypes), as opposed to "elfes" (the French word for elves). Because of this, some European depictions of the elves, while generally similar to the American version, may exhibit dwarf-like beards that would look out of place on an "elf".
- The Keebler elves.
- The Kellogg's Rice Krispies mascots, Snap, Crackle and Pop.
- There is a campaign to popularize something called 'the elf on the shelf'. Parents put an Elf doll on a high shelf in their house and tell their children it's watching them so it can report to Santa if they've been good or bad that year. (Hopefully the idea is promoting good behavior and not merely getting the child used to the idea of a Secret Police.)
- Pokémon: The Original Series used the humanlike Jynx Pokemon to substitute for elves in the Christmas episode (likely influenced by "Black Pete", the traditionally-blackface helper of Dutch Santa Claus). Nowadays the place could be filled by Delibird, the penguins inspired directly by Santa Claus.
- Ghost Sweeper Mikami revealed in its second Christmas chapter that yes, Santa has elves. Thing is... well...
- The Nightmare Before Christmas: Zero's Journey mostly takes place in Christmas Town, so a majority of the characters are elves instead of monsters this time around.
- ElfQuest had a bonus sketch of Santa offering tools to Skywise and Cutter, who respond with "You want us to do what?" Santa's elves (wearing the traditional Santa Elf gear) are in the background, working happily under a sign that says, 'A Busy Elf is a Happy Elf.'
- Red Xmas has Christmas Elves in it. One of the more prominent ones is Melvin, who shares with Ellie Santa's origins, how he became Santa Claus, and of "The Great Elf Holocaust Of 1962".
- In a MAD Magazine satire of "'Twas The Night Before Christmas", one of the woes Santa faces in the modern day is that his elves form a union and go on strike, forcing himself and Mrs. Claus to build the toys themselves.
- One What's New? with Phil and Dixie strip revealed that the reason Tolkien-style elves do not rule the world is that Santa is their primary predator, dragging them to the North Pole to make Pokemon.
- In one particularly funny FoxTrot strip, we see the Head Elf from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer scolding "Herbie" the elf (actually, it's Hermey, but Bill Amend's not the first to make that mistake) about acting like a proper elf. "Elves don't do dentistry! Now hurry it up and get to Rivendell! Elrond's assembling a council!" The last panel shows the Fox living room with the TV announcer saying, "'Rudolph's Lord Of The Rings Christmas' will continue after these messages," and Peter, who's been watching, calling Jason in to see: "Hey, Jason! They used your idea!"
- In the Harry Potter fanfiction The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, for Christmas in Second Year, Dumbledore has a contingent of Hogwarts House-Elves fulfill the roles of Christmas Elves while he dresses up as Santa Claus.
- The "definitive Lord of the Rings e-text", humorously gives Tolkien elves aspects of Christmas elves, with accounts of them forcing dwarves to slave in their "Yule toy mines". And the Balrog, when it arrives, resembles Santa Claus.
- In Lincoln's Memories: Discussed in "'Tis the Season to Be Loud", where the seven-year-old Lynn Loud Jr. wants to beat one of Santa's elves in a footrace.
- The Invader Zim fic Knows if You've Been Naughty strongly implies that all of Santa's elves are naughty children who have been transformed and brainwashed in order to serve for the aid of nicer children as this is what happens to Gaz.
- Naturally show up in Rankin/Bass Productions Christmas Specials, where they are usually portrayed as about half human height.
- In Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, Santa Claus was a Doorstop Baby raised by a family of elves called the Kringles, who named him Kris. Unlike in most of the other specials, these elves all look like short men with beards, except for their matriarch, Tanta Kringle. Kris was about as tall as them as a child and is about twice their height as an adult.
- In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rudolph's best friend is an elf named Hermie who wants to be a dentist, making him a misfit like Rudolph. Notably a lot of the elves in this special are Ditto Aliensnote , presumably just for simplicity.
- The Year Without a Santa Claus features a pair named Jingle and Jangle as major characters.
- The Story of Santa Claus has them living at the North Pole before Nicholas Claus and his wife Gretchen arrive. The pair save the life of an elf child and get a wish; Nicholas wishes for his dream to deliver toys to every child in one night, and the rest of the special is him working with the elves trying to achieve it. (If they can't, they lose their magic, and Nicholas can't take the wish back once he realizes how hard it is.) The story ends with the two humans granted "honorary elf status" and the group deciding to do this every year.
- Arthur Christmas has dwarf-type elves with Pointy Ears that stick out. They are very good at what they do and comprise Santa's special forces-like battalions. The teaser shows three elves from the wrapping battalion wrap a living (and angry) polar bear.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas naturally has some elves in Christmas Town.
- The 2009 Disney animated special Prep & Landing is about a team of elves who go ahead of Santa to prepare each house for his arrival. The main character has gotten cynical after 200-plus years without a promotion, and when a boy asks if he's a baby elf because he's smaller than the elves at the mall, he indignantly points out that he has a pension.
- The villain of The Santa Claus Brothers is a corrupt elf (you can tell because he wears black instead of green) who wants to take over as Santa, replace the other elves with machinery, and sell toys at Christmas instead of giving them away.
- The elves in the movie Spike are very modern. They have a special school to be Santa's helpers, and use modern technology such as the internet. (They also feel that Santa hardly does any work himself anymore.) Spike's cousin, a female Elf, wants to be a TV news reporter instead.
- The Polar Express features very small elves, who can, among other things, perform parachute and bungee-jumping stunts.
- Notably, the short, dimwitted elves in Rise of the Guardians do not actually make toys (that duty falls to the Yetis) and are generally pretty useless. North (i.e. Santa Claus) just seems to keep them around out of pity.
- Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas has Huey, Dewey and Louie posing as elves to alter the naughty list, and creating havoc in the efficient operation the elves normally run.
- Averted in the Disney Channel Original Movie, The Ultimate Christmas Present, with the characters of Crumpet and Sparky.
- Technically, they are elves, but aside from having Pointy Ears, they are very tall and look like normal humans.
- The Santa Clause trilogy featured elves played by child actors, though they are Really 700 Years Old. (Bernard, Santa's second-in-command, is noticeably taller and played by a teenager.) After meeting them in his "dream," Scott objects to the more "dwarf-like" interpretation of Christmas elves that his advertising company was going to use in a commercial.
- Elf plays with the trope. These are the dwarf variety, and they take a human (Will Ferrell) into their numbers. He lacks the elfin magic, sucks at making toys, and isn't quite so cheerful as the other elves. He is still very efficient and cheerful by human standards, though.
- Deconstructed in that same film. As a human, he is unable to keep up with elfin energy, but humans are amazed that he builds things so fast, and only needs two hours of sleep. When he goes back to live with humans, he was so used to elfin naivete that everybody he meets takes advantage of him.
- According to the opening scene, the elves from The Elves and the Cobbler and the Keebler Elves also exist in this universe. And they are the only other ones—a reference to how this type of elf exists almost nowhere else in contemporary fiction.
- Fred Claus also has the dwarf variety.
- Ernest Saves Christmas featured two such elves, one of them played by Patty Maloney.
- Christmas Horror film Elves featured the titular creatures in cahoots with Nazis.
- Rather than use dwarfs, 1985's Santa Claus: The Movie cast performers 5'2" and under as its elves and used terraced sets to make the human characters appear taller than them. In a twist on this trope, these elves predate Santa Claus: they are all friendly adult, male immortals who love human children and create gifts for them from a base at the North Pole — but they need a human to deliver them (the Novelization explains that they used to do it themselves but as humanity grew and spread it became harder to pull off). The woodcutter/toymaker Claus fulfills the elves' prophecy of The Chosen One, and he and his wife Anya are spirited away to the North Pole and become Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus over the course of the movie's opening stretch. In the second half of the film, set in the then-present day, an elf named Patch (Dudley Moore) becomes central to the plot when his attempt to introduce mechanized mass production of toys to the North Pole goes wrong. He subsequently travels to the ordinary world to prove to Santa he can still be a great assistant — and falls in with an evil toy manufacturer (John Lithgow) who intends to use his talents to take over Christmas.
- A Country Christmas has Eliot, an elf who actually becomes Santa's successor!
- An evil version: the Christmas Elves in Krampus.
- In Santa Baby, the elves are played by full-sized actors, but they are almost all The Ditz, explaining why protagonist Mary (Santa's daughter) has to take over for her father instead of passing the job onto one of them. (Although the sequel features an elf who actually does want the job.)
- Get Santa has them played by dwarf actors and adds an interesting reason why the human protagonists are the ones Saving Christmas instead of them:
Elf: Elves aren't allowed to fly the sleigh.
Elf: Medical reasons.
Tom: What medical reasons?
Elf: If we fly over 1,000 feet, we explode.
Tom: (Beat) Oh.
- J. R. R. Tolkien wrote The Father Christmas Letters each Christmas to his children, which included some letters from Santa's elven secretary, Ilbreth, using Tolkien's own elven script and language. Given that Middle-Earth is supposed to be mythic past of our Earth, it means that the only surviving Firstborn are now living around the North Pole. It makes more sense in the context of his contemporary version of The Silmarillion (The Book of Lost Tales) in which the little fairies of popular legend were inspired by the wasted remnant spirits of Elves who had been left behind (not by choice) and diminished over time due to the rule of Men.
- The romance novel Christmas Elf by Tielle St. Clare. They are more or less human height, are very perky and have pointed ears. They have some magic, and they can grant Christmas wishes, but seem to lack the ability to materialize anything from thin air.
- The tie-in storybook based on Cars called Mater Saves Christmas features elf microcars.
- In Hogfather, the Department Store Hogfather has "Little Helpers" running around, and the myth is said to include elves who make the presents. However, as Albert points out, Discworld's Elves are very much not the cheery helpful sort; "You'd have to be a maniac to even think of giving an elf a chisel, less'n you want their initials carved on your forehead." Calling them "pixies" isn't much better, as the setting's pixies are tiny blue Violent Glaswegians more famous for stealing things than delivering them.
- Santa's elves in The Guardians of Childhood are what remains of the former bandit's gang. When North and his men first entered the forest hiding Santoff Clausen, the forest spirit guarding the village only deemed North pure of heart and turned the rest of his gang to small stone figures. After the dust has settled after defeating Pitch soundly, North and the spirits restore the stony men to organic form, but they lost their height in the process. The elves do not actually build the toys, only testing them with Yetis being North's primary workforce.
- In the 1880s, Margaret T. Canby speculated that Santa got his elves one year when so many children had been good that he just couldn't do everything himself. They normally lived underground in winter and mined for treasure like Tolkien dwarves, but this group was getting bored with that and wanted to see the world. This is in Birdie and his Fairy Friends.
- In Artemis Fowl, Santa Claus himself was actually the elf king San D'Klass, who thought that he could alleviate human greed by giving them gifts. This information comes somewhat out of nowhere near the end of the first book, where it's revealed to be a key element of Artemis' master plan.
- The traditional story The Elves and the Cobbler, having been written before Tolkien's time, presumably involves this type of elves, and illustrated versions and film adaptations almost always depict them as such.
- Monster of the Month Club: Bow, the December Selection, is based on one.
- The Day Santa Stopped Believing In Harold: We see Merpin, a short, pointy-eared elf in a green shirt and hat.
- In the original 1939 story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a few of Santa's elves are seen helping him pack his sleigh before taking his annual Christmas Eve delivery. That same journey where he ends up meeting Rudolph as he's delivering his Christmas presents but quickly notices his glowing red nose as Rudolph's sleeping in bed.
- Also subverted in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Alec Baldwin plays a high-ranking Christmas elf who is eerily similar to Baldwin's character from Glengarry Glen Ross.
- ABC: Always Be Cobbling!
- There was another sketch in which a son "comes out" as an elf to his father, who then confesses that he too is an elf.
- Subverted in an early Sabrina the Teenage Witch episode, where all of Santa's elves are regular human-sized except one.
Elf: We're Santa's elves!Sabrina: I thought Santa’s elves were supposed to be small.Elf: Oh, you’re probably thinking of Fritz. Whenever someone whips out a camera guess who always happens to be next to Santa.
- This, however, was ignored in a later episode when the aunts hire a couple of short elves.
- In the Christmas Episode of Pair of Kings, Brady and Boomer learned some of Santa's elves reside in the island. Much to their surprise, while the elves wear the famous green clothes, they are normal-sized humans.
- A minor Running Gag on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is comparing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to one of these.
- Two rather sarcastic elves, named Ian and Wolf, accompany Santa in the Doctor Who Christmas Episode "Last Christmas".
- Barenaked Ladies' "Elf's Lament", a song about how Santa's elves are mistreated and how they want to unionize.
- "Celtic Carol" shows Lindsey Stirling in a Christmas workshop being one of Santa's elves, sometimes with her violin and sometimes not. She has pointed ears and is mischievous, playing jump-rope with tinsel.
- Mentioned throughout Sia's "Sunshine":
Tell me your secrets tonight
I'll take 'em with me, and I'll get the elves workin' on them in the workshop
We'll take your problems apart, put 'em back using our hearts
Got the elves working so hard, make your pain stop
- The Muppets have featured Christmas Elves several times:
- The 1970 special The Great Santa Claus Switch has a group of elves named Zippity, Skippity, Hoppity, Bing, Bong, and Fred, who sing "Happy Christmas Elves" and (except Fred) completely fail to notice that Santa has been replaced by an imposter.
- Sesame Street Christmas Episodes:
- In A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, the gang are greeted at the North Pole by Santa's Chief Elf, who unusually is not a Muppet, but Paul Williams.
- The Kingdom of Loathing has Crimbo elves. In general, they follow the standard definition of Christmas elves, in that they are shorter than most, toil away making toys, and live with Uncle Crimbo in his toy factory (in whatever incarnation both are in that year). The fact that they fought for union rights against Uncle Crimbo's strikebusting reindeer, took over Halloween once, were turned into half-cyborg creatures, were horribly mutated by lunar radiation, combined into a gargantuan monstrosity, were enslaved by the Penguin Mafia, were reduced to living as hobos with Uncle Crimbo, and were hired as miserable office workers for a soulless megacorporation are just minor details.
- Christmas elves are a staple of Gaia Online Christmas celebrations.
- Sam & Max: Freelance Police 201: Ice Station Santa, set in Santa's workshop, naturally features a pair of them. They mention that they come from an "elf factory", but this just means they worked there. The factory still produced elves, though.
- They are kind of terrifying, too. Both in terms of physical appearance, and the fact that the one trying to water the tree with his tears is too damn cheerful to cry, in spite of the fact that he's under literal fire from an extremely paranoid Santa Claus.
- The third season reveals that Santa's evil ancestor Nicholas St. Kringle originally ran a sweatshop with humans, but later switched to elves, who worked for much cheaper. One of the elves was also bitten by an unknown creature and became a vampire.
- It should be noted that Santa himself, usually described as a "jolly old elf", subverts the trope; he's a cantankerous old sod who despises children. He even points out the Fridge Logic of assuming he likes children with his usual setup: He lives in the one place on Earth where there are no children, doing a job where he's only exposed to children one day out of the year, and they are not allowed to see him.
- CarnEvil has twisted, demented ones fought on the "Slay Ride" roller coaster.
- Daze Before Christmas, in which you are a Badass Santa, have you rescuing your kidnapped elves from enemy territories. They're usually stuffed in present boxes.
- Terraria has an army of elves in the Frost Moon event. Some know archery, others ride helicopters shooting a Gatling gun at you, and there's even a zombie variation.
- Them's Fightin' Herds has characters who evoke this trope surrounding the Reindeer character in her concept art, although they look more like a mix of The Fair Folk with The Greys.
- Elf Bowling has them get used as pins.
- Garden Gnome Carnage: They're the main enemy of the game, trying to get inside the player's house.
- In the third installment of New Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the heroes crash-land at the North Pole and have to round up Santa's reindeer, whom they've scared away. Santa assigns one of his elves to assist them in this endeavor, and they recruit several more to perform the various tasks on each level.
- The Sluggy Freelance elves are split between these and Neebler elves, which are pretty much the same, but they make cookies. The Christmas version has a black ops division (to find out who's naughty and who's nice)
- The webcomic Otter Soldiers has the Finnish version of Santa dead for some decades before the comic begins living in Lappland, and his Elves are anything but nice. Nowadays they mainly plot world domination with crows and they killed one protagonist's sister for not wanting anything. So they put her in a box without any air in it. There are also killer raisins, evil worms and horse spirits who are mostly out to keep the world from going to shit, not so much for helping humans.
- 8-Bit Theater toys with the trope; the elves are the standard high-fantasy elves, but Thief belongs to the Khee'bler tribe, which has long been at war with the Sa'nta tribe.
- This El Goonish Shive holiday sketchbook strip features Nanase and Ellen fighting elves like they are Mooks for no apparent reason except maybe the Rule of Cool.
- Claus features many of Santa's elves doing various things such as singing or fixing things around Santa's village.
- Critical Role: In "The Night Before Critmas" one-shot, all the player characters play a ragtag group of Santa's elves, the only ones not to get sick on Christmas Eve, who are forced to save Santa after he gets kidnapped. Has elements of Santa's Sweatshop since Klaus usually serves as one of the North Pole's bodyguards, implying he's killed people who have gotten too close to breaking The Masquerade, and Chutney, one of the elder elves, resents the change from wooden toys to electronics so much that he stabs Santa when given the chance.
- Parodied in a CollegeHumor short, where a High Fantasy elf visits his Christmas elf parents at the North Pole. Much of the humor is derived from the gap between both generations of elves present.
- On Phineas and Ferb's first Christmas Episode, two elves show up in Danville to investigate when the entire town is inexplicably declared Naughty (due to Doofenshmirtz's Naughty-inator messing up their readings). Notably, the first few scenes of them were at the North Pole without any humans around, so the fact that they are only a few inches high was used as a humorous Reveal.
- An episode of Family Guy has Brian and Stewie travel to the North Pole to kill Santa. They arrive to a massive factory spewing toxic waste, and the elves are all suffering from mutation and inbreeding, resulting in creatures that can barely do anything and who do not even notice when a body part has been removed. Turns out the problem is the modern kids wanting too much with Santa desperately trying to meet the demand.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force: According to the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past, elves are actually Martians enslaved by the primitive man-ape Santa Claws to fashion toys for him. Then they tried to unionize, so he replaced them with robots, leading to a war between the machines and the martians/elves that may have wiped out the martians/elves entirely...
- South Park: The Underpants Gnomes spend two months of the year helping Santa. They spend the rest of the year in their quest for profit.
- One episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy features Billy getting caught in an ongoing war between tree-dwelling cookie-making Elves (clearly modelled after the Keebler Elves) and cave-dwelling mushroom farming Dwarves. In the end they make peace and start producing mushroom-flavoured cookies together.
- They also do a Christmas special where Grim takes them to the North Pole to prove Santa's real. It turns out he's been turned into a vampire by Mrs. Claus, who just wanted a break. They are short, cute and make toys, but mostly stay in the background...until they are transformed into batlike Mooks.
- Subverted in Futurama: Robot Santa has his headquarters on the polar ice caps of Neptune, and has enslaved the Neptunians, forcing them to work in his weapons factory. They are malnourished, thus their growth is stunted — making them Little People compared to the human-sized Neptunians seen elsewhere in the series. They are not happy at all, they live in horrible conditions, and they hate Robot Santa as much as everybody else does. They also all seem to be gay for no specific reason.
- A rather creepy example in Ben 10 involves children being magically transformed into these.
- The Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: N.A.U.G.H.T.Y." featured elf versions of the X-Men, complete with a Wolverine Captain Ersatz with candy cane claws.
- The Fairly OddParents!:
- Invader Zim used a Santa disguise to make the humans drop their guard on Christmas. He dressed his Lawn Gnome Sentries like Santa's Robot Elves. "Just like in the stories!"
- The Powerpuff Girls (1998) Christmas special 'Twas the Fight Before Christmas' focused mostly on the girls' journey to the North Pole. But toward the beginning, when Princess originally breaks into Santa's workshop to see whether she's on the naughty or nice list, she has to evade the elves to prevent being discovered. They are short and wear bright colors, but act more like people than mindless Christmas spirits. Two even have a water-cooler conversation about whittling.
- The Smurfs (1981) themselves fulfill this role in a Christmas special.
- Santa Vs The Snowman This Christmas special has elves in it.
- Santa's Elves are small green Pointy Ears aliens working for Santa Claus in Men in Black.
- On Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Santa's elves are in fact Little Green Men of the same species as those who work for the Space Rangers. Like their Star Command counterparts, these LGMs develop all sorts of hi-tech gizmos, this time to help Santa Claus deliver presents.
- Ready Jet Go!: In "Holidays in Boxwood Terrace", Mindy plays Santa's head elf in the Christmas pageant.
- Averted in Regular Show. In keeping with their Christmas Special's numerous references to The Lord of the Rings, Santa's elves are more of the High-Fantasy variety, being generally tall, lanky, gaunt, and in the case of the special's villain Quillgin, quite arrogant and full of himself.
- DuckTales (2017), the flashbacks in "How Santa Stole Christmas!" features a village of short, green-clad people, who decide they prefer Santa's plan of delivering toys for free to Scrooge's plan to deliver coal for a reasonable profit, and then reveal their pointy ears.