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Elves should be making toys, not casting spells.
—Thor, The Order of the Stick
Santa Claus's 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 Seven Hundred Years Old. They are cheerful and love working for Santa, and are great with kids.
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. Justified Trope: Santa works outside, in the cold night air; elves work inside, in the warm toy-factory. Although Santa is sometimes described as a 'Jolly Old Elf', or implied to have elven blood.
This trope can extend to other elves who don't follow the typical portrayals of a fantasy 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 promoting good behavior and not merely getting the child used to the idea of a Secret Police.)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had an elf who wanted to be a dentist instead of a toy maker.
- In the animated Christmas special Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, the Kringles appear to be little old men with beards.
- Arthur Christmas has dwarf-type elves with pointy ears that stick out. They're very good at what they do and comprise Santa's special forces-like batallions. The teaser shows three elves from the wrapping batallion wrap a living (and angry) polar bear.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas naturally has some elves in Christmastown. Hilariously, many fans consider the elves freakier that the six-foot-tall skeleton running around. Or anyone in Halloweentown, for that matter.
- The Disney animated special Prep and 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 antagonist 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.
Anime and Manga
- The Pokémon anime used the humanlike Jynx Pokemon to substitute for elves in the Christmas episode. This unfortunately led to the Christmas episode being banned thanks to accusations of racism. Funnily, nowadays the place could be filled by Delibird, the penguins inspired by Santa Claus.
- Ghost Sweeper Mikami revealed in its second Christmas issue that yes, Santa has elves. Thing is...well...see for yourself.
- Berserk's Elves are little pixie-ish creatures that fly around with wings and have the power to heal people. We have only seen Puck and Evarella so far, but we may be seeing how varied they can be when Guts and crew arrive in Elfland to see the King about Casca's madness.
- Elf Quest had an Omake 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.'
Film - Live-Action
- The Santa Clause trilogy featured child-like elves who were Really Seven Hundred Years Old. Bernard was the oldest one and resembled a teenager.
- The film's interpretation of slow aging would appear to agree with Tolkien: the word yen can mean 100 or 144 solar years in various dialects of Quenya, yet the Eldar speak of those as men speak of years.
- Elf plays with the trope. These are the dwarf variety, and they take a human 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. When he goes back to live with humans, he was so used to elfin naivete that everybody he meets takes advantage of him.
- 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 Santa and Mrs. Claus appear taller than them. These elves are friendly immortals and very slow-aging; all of them are adults. One of them, Patch (Dudley Moore), becomes central to the film when his attempt to introduce mechanized mass production of toys to the North Pole goes wrong, and 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.
- J. R. R. Tolkien used to write Letters from Santa (and occasionally, his elves) each Christmas to his children. There, he used his elven script and language. And 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're 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.
- Some of the Hogfather's Little Helpers—called "pixies", because Discworld elves would sooner unwrap your liver than wrap your presents—worked at the shopping mall in Hogfather, helping direct shoppers' children to the guy-with-a-pillow-up-his-robe's throne. Whether or not the actual Hogfather has pixie assistants was never established.
- Based on a conversation between Mr Crumley and Albert, there's apparently a belief that the Hogfather's toys are made by elves, but in reality no-one would be daft enough to give a Discworld elf a hammer for any reason.
"Uncle Heavy" (Albert): "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."
- 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!
- 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're normal-sized humans.
- Barenaked Ladies' "Elf's Lament", a song about how Santa's elves are mistreated and how they want to unionize.
- Bob Rivers parodied the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" with his "All You Need Is Elves".
- The Kingdom of Loathing has Crimbo elves. In general, they follow the standard definition of Christmas elves, in that they're 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.
- A staple of Gaia Online Christmas celebrations.
- Sam and 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're 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're not allowed to see him.
- 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.
- Eight 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.
- 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).
- 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 don't 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 December helping Santa. They spend the rest of the year in their quest for profit.
- One episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and 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.
- 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're malnourished, thus their growth is stunted—making them Little People compared to the human-sized Neptunians seen elsewhere in the series. They aren't happy at all, they live in horrible conditions, and they hate Robot Santa as much as everybody else does. They're also gay.
- 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.
- In the Oh Yeah Cartoons era of The Fairly OddParents, there was one episode where one of Santa's elves acted as a stand-in for Cosmo and Wanda. To Timmy's dismay, the elf couldn't grant any wish other than toys.