Whether you’ve seen gnomes on TV, read about them in a J.R.R Tolkien novel or actually own them in your garden, gnomes are popular mythical creatures that seem to appear everywhere, but not many people seem to know what they are. Even though their stories are fascinating, how did they end up as a staple garden ornament?
The first person who described gnomes as magical creatures was the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus during the 16th century. Paracelsus claimed that gnomes come out at night to help plants grow and ensure a successful harvest. He classified them as earth elementals (a mythic being) where they are associated with loyalty, hard work and bravery and can move through the Earth the same way sirens move through water. His beliefs are very similar to folklore as gnomes are known to be creatures that take care of vegetation and are very talented harvesters.
In European folklore, gnomes guard precious treasures hidden within the Earth. Many argue that modern day gnomes are largely inspired by Scandinavians. It is said they took inspiration from Bavarian miners who wore padded pointy red hats to protect them from falling rocks and indicated when the roof was too low.
It may come as a surprise to find that their story goes all the way back to Ancient Rome. The earliest appearance of garden gnome-like statues was in Ancient Rome, where garden ornaments were statues that represented the Roman Gods. These statues were to protect gardens from evil spirits. The most common among them was the God Priapus, who was a protector of livestock, planting, and gardening.
Nowadays, the use of gnomes for decorating gardens is a practice used all around the world, but especially in Europe. For decades the love of gnomes has persisted in society due to myths, folklore, and stories from around the world. Garden gnomes bring prosperity, and many gardeners believe that they bring good luck, protection and stimulate healthy plant growth. They became widely popular as home ornaments by the beginning of the 18th century but were only accessible to those who could afford them.
World War I drastically changed leisure habits and people lost interest in garden gnomes until the release of the animated fantasy movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937. Popular culture restored the glory of garden gnomes due to the physical similarity between the dwarves and gnomes. The increased demand for garden gnomes led to a larger production where gnomes were now available in plastic and other materials. This made it more affordable for middle and lower classes and spread the popularity between homeowners. They lost the elite status they once had but became a very recurring reference in pop culture for decades to come.
Festivals for these creatures are held by passionate fans all around the world, from Australia all the way to the USA. Even famous literature has been given a gnome-twist with the recent film adaptations of “Gnomeo and Juliet” and “Sherlock Gnomes”. Whether you want a football themed gnome or a dinosaur gnome, they come in all shapes and sizes, adding another depth of warmth and detail in people’s gardens.
Christmas gnomes are popular for a number of reasons; possibly the main one being that they look very similar to Santa Claus makes them perfectly placed to be given a Santa-style look. This means giving them a red outfit and the same kind of boots that they big man has every year too. They also have the beard and big belly, of course, which all adds up to them almost looking the same!
Another reason will be that they are great for placing around the house, in addition to being outside, and are fun to look at so people naturally like having them and Christmas is the perfect time to decorate a house with all kinds of lovely ornaments.
As various forms of gnome ornaments are easy to make, people enjoy using them in various ways such as hanging them off trees, as plush ornaments to be placed on a couch alongside cushions, place card holders, and as little fluffy characters that work well alongside napkins.
They are seen as being lucky and able to protect things with their magical powers so people feel safer having them around. This, combined with the fact that they are so versatile and look great in a variety of settings and made in lots of ways, ornaments and plush toys, means that people naturally love to decorate with them.
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