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Gnomes Through Time

From Earthly Guardians to Holiday Cheer: The Enchanting History of Garden and Christmas Gnomes


Gnome sits outside next to my decorated planter

This time of year, admist the evergreens and tinsel, cute little bearded men appear dressed in festive sweaters and pointy hats.


Gnomes in general have been around for a long time, mostly in legends and fairytales. But it wasn't until more recently that gnomes became part of Christmas decor.












The concept of gnomes has evolved over time, and different cultures have contributed to shaping their characteristics and roles.


Gnome Chomsky at Kelder Farm NY. 13.5ft, built in 2006 by New York City artist Maria Reidelbach
Gnome Chomsky at Kelder Farm NY. 13.5ft, built in 2006 by New York City artist Maria Reidelbach

Gnomes are believed to have originated from ancient Greek and Roman mythology, where they were associated with the earth element. They were considered small, elemental beings living underground. The term "gnome" itself is derived from the Latin word "genomos" or "gnomus," meaning earth-dweller.


During the medieval period and the Renaissance, alchemists and scholars incorporated gnomes into their writings. These mystical beings were often associated with the four elements, and gnomes represented the earth.


In 18th-century European folklore, especially in Germanic and Scandinavian traditions, gnomes became more defined as small, humanoid creatures living underground. They were depicted as guardians of hidden treasures and possessed magical qualities.


Garden Gnomes

The modern concept of the garden gnome originated in 19th-century Germany. Philipp Griebel, a German sculptor, is credited with creating the first ceramic garden gnome in the 1870s.


Garden gnomes gained popularity in the early 20th century and became a common feature in gardens across Europe. They are often depicted as small, bearded figures wearing pointed hats and engaged in various activities. They were believed to bring good luck and protect gardens from evil spritis.


Outdoor holiday gnome decoration by Kate Walz

Christmas Gnomes

The connection between garden gnomes and Christmas gnomes is not direct, as they have distinct cultural origins. However, in Scandinavian folklore, particularly in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, there is a tradition of Christmas gnomes known as "Tomte" in Sweden and "Nisse" in Norway and Denmark.


Christmas gnomes are often depicted as small, benevolent creatures wearing red hats. According to folklore, they are believed to protect households, farms, and barns during the holiday season and are associated with good luck and prosperity.





I made this gnome (above) using an inverted tomato cage and wired evergreen branches to it, creating the beard and body. I used painted white sticks around the nose, added a hat, mittens and shoes! He made me smile every time I walked outside and saw him standing there.


Personally, I'm a big fan of Christmas gnomes. I love their big hats, non existent eyes and ridiculously long and full white beards. Garden gnomes? Jury still out on that one for me. I think they are adorable, but I don't have any in my garden. I think gnomes are one of those things that people either love or hate. What's your opinion?


Did you know?

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has banned gnomes from the gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the last 100 years?!



Regardless how you feel, it's safe to say gnomes are here for good. Maybe you'll invite a gnome into your home this year? Or create one yourself? Or share one of the many gnome jokes and puns:


Did you know gnomes wear little red hats?

It's a little gnome fact!




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