|Manuscript facsimile from St. Nicholas - January 1875|
Definition of ELF 1: a small often mischievous fairy. --Merriam-WebsterOlder synonyms for elf are "devil" and "dwarf."
The generally devilish nature of elves is why Professor Moore, having turned Santa into one, had to specify "jolly." There are good elves and bad elves, like the witches in Oz. Only Dorothy never heard of such a thing as a good witch until she met Glinda.
Because this Santa looks and acts like a vagabond, and smokes like a chimney, we have to be reassured that there's really "nothing to dread." Grownups can read The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum to learn more about the working-class attributes of Moore's Santa Claus, and the carnival rites of Christmas that Moore's poem has served to domesticate.
The fairy Santa is ridiculously small in stature, which is why he needs "a miniature sleigh" and "tiny reindeer" to pull it.
Few now believe in fairies. Not in little fairies. We need a Santa large enough to handle large presents. And if he's rushed this year, the Big Fella can forget the stockings. But he can't smoke, obviously, or the wife will get really mad.
And nowadays we don't like to mention or allude to the formerly scrambled brains of Mom and Dad. First Lady Michelle Obama and Ryan Seacrest have made this official in their recent, authoritative public reading: the good parents of "The Night Before Christmas" merely "settled down." Whereas, in Clement C. Moore's time Mamma and Papa needed to rest their weary brains, individual and collective:
"And Mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap;"
--Clement C. Moore, A Visit from St Nicholas