These are similar to the house elves found in the Harry Potter books, as opposed to the Elves that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about, which are more closely related to the Celtic legends of the Fae Folk.
In the mid-1800s, Scandinavian writers such as Thile, Toplius, & Rydberg transformed the image of these gnomes to Christmas elves that were almost like mischievous fairies but were good at heart.
In keeping with the popularization of Christmas, they were depicted as true friends and helpers of Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Artists such as Hansen and Nyström painted Santa's elves in their present forms.
At first, it was believed that Santa and his elves lived at North Pole but when it was found in 1925 that North Pole has no reindeer but there is a huge population of reindeer in Lapland, Finland. People started believing that since reindeer 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.
The secret of its location is known only to Father Christmas and the elves but still people believe that it is somewhere in Korvatunturi mountain in the Savukoski county of Lapland on the Finnish-Russian border.
Some people believe 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(1) 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 and their duties are as follows:
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 co-founder 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 reindeer and it is believed that his reindeer reach speeds faster than Christmas tree lights.
For more information on Santa and his elves, please visit The World of Christmas, where Santa lives, online!
(1) Grýla is in Icelandic mythology a horrifying monster and an ogress living in the mountains of Iceland. She is said to come from the mountains at Christmas in search of naughty children.
The Grýla legend has been frightening to the people of Iceland for many centuries - her name is even mentioned in Snorri Sturluson's thirteenth century Edda. Grýla was not directly linked to Christmas until in the 17th century. By that time she had become the mother of the Yule Lads. A public decree was issued in 1746 prohibiting the use of Grýla and the Yule Lads to terrify children.
According to folklore Grýla has been married three times. Her third husband Leppalúði is said to be living with her in their cave in the mountains with the big black Christmas cat and their sons. As Christmas approaches, Grýla sets off looking for naughty boys and girls. The Grýla legend has appeared in many stories, poems, songs and plays in Iceland and sometimes Grýla dies in the end of the story.