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The tiny plastic and felt elves, known as knee-huggers, are a kitschy Christmas delight. These little elves often sit in the knee-hugging position, thus their name! The elves can sit on the mantle, on the branches of a vintage Christmas tree, or hang as ornaments. I am too young to have experienced these elves during their original heyday, but I have read many a blog post written by those whose childhoods were chock full of knee-huggers. They are one of those vintage decor items that inspire memory after memory from those who were there the first time around!
Even if you are unfamiliar with the vintage knee-hugging variety of elves, these little guys may still look familiar. I suspect their popularity resurgence has much to do with the famous modern knee-hugger – Elf on a Shelf. In 2005, Carol Abersold and Chanda Bell wrote the book that re-popularized the holiday tradition of elves on shelves, mantles, and such. Children today have read the book and experienced the watchful eyes of Santa’s helper, who happens to resemble his vintage cousins quite a bit.
Most, if not all, of the original knee-huggers were made in Japan during the mid-twentieth century as part of the post-World War II effort to rebuild Japan’s economy. Most items Japan manufactured during this time were inexpensive and considered to be cheaply made. Some Japanese goods, such as these sweet Christmas pixies, took up residence in the hearts of American consumers. Today, the elves are a desirable addition to the mid-century modern Christmas aesthetic popular on Instagram and in the homes of Christmas decor lovers.
Knee-hugger elves’ red and green varieties are more plentiful, but if you look hard enough, you will find differently colored and patterned ones, too! In fact, it was a sweet turquoise and gold knee-hugger with a tall, pointy hat that first grabbed my attention. I spotted him on my mom’s desk, preparing to debut on eBay.
Recently, I scored a bag of knee-huggers at an estate sale, and I found one with a tall, pointy hat with stars. He looks like the elf that my mom had a few years ago, and I am in love. He will stay in my collection to remind me of the time I spent four hours in an estate sale line to score a Christmas elf. My kids call him Eddy because every elf needs a name. The remaining knee-huggers I purchased are up for sale on eBay, including elves with polka dot and striped outfits!
Do you love knee-hugger elves or think they are a strange holiday tradition? Do you remember little Christmas pixies from your childhood? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
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