It is now December, which means it is time to break out the decorations and make it look like Christmas threw up in our house! We at the Collector Gene all love Christmas, and want to take some time this month to share some of our favorite decorations and traditions with you. I would like to start with one of my favorite traditions that I started when I was about four or five years old.
In recent years, 1950’s-60’s Christmas pixies have had a huge resurgence thanks to a little book called “Elf on a Shelf”. That’s right, for all of you hiding a red and white elf all over your house for your kids that don’t already know this, the design of that elf is based directly on the cute little Christmas knee hugger pixies of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I have been collecting pixies since I was a kid, so I will admit that it can be frustrating at times when people see my collections and say “Oh, like Elf on a Shelf, right?” No, not like Elf on a Shelf, because the vintage pixies I have been collecting predate “Elf on a Shelf” by forty to fifty years. At the same time, it is nice to know that a new generation of kids will be growing up with an appreciation for kitschy Christmas elves just like I did.
My first Christmas pixie was given to me when I think I was about four or five (I can’t remember exactly when). My father has two antique cars, and belonged to a local antique car club. Every year the club would have a Christmas party and my whole family would attend. Usually it was just an excuse for Ben and I to each get one Christmas present early, as every year there was a Pollyanna and my mom would put a gift for each of us in the pile of presents to make a party with no other children but us a little more bearable (my dad was among the younger members of the club, so he was the only one bringing young kids to the party). One year the women of the club said that they were going to throw out the Christmas tree that they had been using for years and replace it with a new one, so any ornaments anyone wanted were up for grabs. On the tree was one small pixie elf that my mom took for me, and that is what started my collection of 1950’s and 1960’s pixies.
This is Elfie. Yes, I know, what a clever name for an elf, right? I never was terribly clever when it came to naming my toys as a kid. Elfie is what is known as a “knee hugger” pixie. If you look at the picture you can probably figure out why, but if you can’t it is because his arms loop around his knees like he is hugging them. To me a pixie is a toy or decoration with one of those sappy and cute little elf heads, and not all vintage pixies are knee huggers. They come in all shapes and sizes, and I have found them with all sorts of different bodies and designs. Some pixie collectors only go for the knee huggers, but I enjoy all 1950’s and 1960’s pixies in my collection. Knee huggers and pixies also exist for other occasions besides Christmas, but we will get into that a little bit later.
This is Elfie’s cousin. I never gave him a name beyond that, but he was the second pixie I got. He is not a knee hugger. He just has wires in his legs that make him poseable. Most of the non-knee hugger pixies I have come across have wire bodies like this one, but some of them have plastic bodies, and others have no poseability at all. For many years these were the only two pixies I had. I wanted to give them a little bit of prominence in my Christmas display as a kid, so I took a small log cabin doll house I had and turned it into “Elfie’s House”. I took miniatures and doll house furniture and tiny Christmas decorations and decorated it, and that is how Elfie is displayed each year. Now there are a plethora of other pixies surrounding the house since I started collecting them more, but the only two elves inside are Elfie and his cousin. It is a tradition. Every time I bring it out it reminds me of being a kid and creating it in the first place. That is my pixie tradition at Christmas, and now that that story is out of the way I want to talk about all of the other cool and interesting pixies I have come across over the past 20 years.
I put this group together to show the various shapes and sizes that pixies can come in. Only the drum major pixie pictured is a knee hugger, and the rest are pixies with mostly wire bodies. They range in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and there is even a cute little snowman pixie in the picture that I found at a flea market. All of these qualify as pixies in my book, and all of them are equally kitschy!
Here are some weirder pixies. Even though most pixies were made to hang on a tree, several of these are approached as more traditional ornaments than most. They are lacking the plush doll bodies, and are lacking poseability. There is also a pencil with a pixie head on top and pixie head on a wire that was most likely used for some other decorating purpose, though I am not sure exactly what.
Pixies come in all shapes and sizes including GIANT PIXIES! I threw in a few more traditionally sized knee huggers for comparison, so these guys are pretty big. They range from 14” – 18” in height. The large pixies are tougher to come by, and when I see them they are usually not knee huggers, even though we have found one giant knee hugger (the guy on the right). I think that these guys were more likely given to children as dolls rather than used as traditional decorations in their day.
In this grouping I have decided to show a few more unusual pixies. The one with the closed eyes in the middle doesn’t have a terribly elf looking face, and reminds me more of Elmer Fudd. He is not a design I come across too often. With the little blonde guy next to him, the dealer I bought it from thought it was one of the Rice Krispies mascots, Snap, Crackle, and Pop. I don’t think so, but it is a bit more unusual a face and I see where he was coming from. The little red and white guy is an example of a pixie with a plastic doll body. He is one of the smallest in my collection standing about 2” tall.
Obviously Christmas is the time of year for most pixies, but they do sneak into other uses throughout the year. Why create new head sculpts for your holiday decoration company when you can reuse the same thing over and over again? Pixies and knee huggers exist for almost every holiday, and were used for other souvenir doll purposes as well. Some of these next guys are pretty strange.
None of the non-Christmas pixies are easy to find, but I have come across the Hillbilly knee huggers a few times in the wild. I love the guy in the middle with the little plastic feet! I am assuming that these were sold as souvenirs somewhere because I am not sure why else they would exist.
“Mexican Elfie” is one of my favorites. Why you would put a poncho and sombrero on a pixie is beyond me, unless you are purposely trying to be ironic. The other little guy is a sailor. Again, I assume these were sold as souvenirs somewhere because I have no other explanation as to why they exist. I can just picture Mexican pixies lining the shelves at South of the Border…
I mentioned earlier that they made pixies for almost every holiday. Well, here are some that I have come across. The Easter Bunny is a more unusual form, and the Halloween knee huggers like this witch are very popular. Most of the other holiday knee huggers I find don’t have pixie heads, so the pilgrims are kind of interesting in that regard. Collectors really go for the non-Christmas holiday pixies and knee huggers, and they are not easy to come by at all.
One great thing about pixies gaining popularity again thanks to “Elf on a Shelf” is that sometimes you get cool new ideas for pixies. My mom and dad found this alien knee hugger on their cross country trip. As far as I know, they didn’t make a vintage alien, so this is a really cool new idea. Of course I prefer the vintage pixies for my own collection, but sometimes the new stuff can be really interesting as well.
Speaking of new pixies that are super cool (get ready for some very shameless self-promotion right now) I have produced my own Krampus pixie! You know Krampus. He’s the Austrian Christmas devil that punishes bad children while Santa rewards the good ones. This little guy is made right in my studio in the heart of the Collector Gene archive (our house). I do everything myself. I sell them on Etsy.com and eBay, in case anyone out there is interested. Now that I am done shamelessly plugging my business (which is called Plastictastic, by the way and you can like it on Facebook) I can get back to talking about Christmas pixies.
One of the best parts about collecting pixies is that, in general, they are pretty inexpensive. They were popular in their day, and a lot of them show up at flea markets and yard sales. Of course, the non-Christmas knee huggers and pixies are a bit tougher to come by and that adds some expense and challenge to collecting pixies, but I think it just makes it more fun. Whether you buy them to hide around your house for the kids for a month, or buy them for the love of kitsch, it really doesn’t matter. To me, they will always remind me of Christmas because of my silly little tradition, and it is nice to see other kids creating Christmas traditions with knee huggers and pixies today.
Do you remember knee hugger pixies packaged with Joy dish soap back in the 1960’s?
I remember those pixies!! My Mom still has a set of them in a box in the attic with the old X-Mas decorations. I believe they came with “Thrill” liquid dish soap. Yup, the “elf on the shelf” pixies triggered my memory.
I have been seeing this Elf on the Shelf, and last night it bugged me all night, I knew I had seen something like this before, recalled it was on a Dish detergent, but so forgot what one. (JOY). I dont have any as I had a house fire 25 yrs ago, now Im on a quest asking and begging my Aunts for 1, I hope one of them has 1 to gift to me….
I love Christmas pixies! I have been collecting for a number of years. I received my first pixie doll when I was about 7 years old. He’s a larger one, not a knee-hugger. Now I have all kinds.
i have a large pixie elf knee hugger in blue lame and i know it’s valuable because it seems to be extremely rare. i simply cannot find another one like it. i was wondering if you would be interested in it or at least be able to give me a little more info on it. i will send you a pic or post one. thank you, angela
Your pixie sounds interesting. I would be happy to take a look at it and tell you what I know. No one has ever posted a picture in a comment on here before, so I have no idea whether or not it is possible, but if it isn’t let me know. I will send you my e-mail and you can send me a picture. Thanks!
I have a load of pixie/elf heads that came in a huge box of vinyl craft heads. I have been mulling over what to do with them. I remember the knee huggers from childhood (born 1959)and wanted to do something funny, like make a hipster elf wearing an ironic ugly christmas sweater, complete with skinny jeans and goatee.
Then I saw the other holiday elves and got to thinking, why couldn’t an elf have costumes to wear all thru the year? Alien knee hugger……just paint the face green!!! Ok, time to get sewing!
When we first moved to Europe we arrived in Germany with no Christmas presents on December 24th. My Dad went out to look for anything to give his kids and got some guy running an old chocolate shop to open the store. We each got a nice big chocolate bar with one of these Pixies tied onto it. Before coming home he went to work and the World Book Encyclopedias he ordered for us were there. Nothing feels as good about Christmas to me than that memory of eating a chocolate bar, reading the volumes and having Pixie Wars with my sister. Best Christmas we ever had.
A very informative blog, but I still haven’t found anything about my kneehugger.
Have you ever come across one with a pot head? He is quite large at 8″ sitting (from top of hat to boots). He came to me from Germany with some vintage bears but I don’t know if any of the German toy makers made these kneehuggers, do you?
My expertise is bears so I am out of my depth here.
Wow, a pot head kneehugger? I can’t say I have ever seen anything like that. I am trying to picture what you are describing, but it sounds very interesting. I believe that they did sell kneehuggers in Europe, and they did make lots of non-Christmas pixies, so it is very possible that it was something sold in Germany. Not seeing it, it is hard for me to say how rare it might be, but you probably have a nice piece there.
Hi! I love your photos. I did not have an elf, alas, but I am very interested in the pixie knee-huggers. You have provided such a wealth of information on them. I am writing an academic paper on the origins of the practice of moving elves around the house that dates back to at least the 1950s or 1960s. Would you be willing to share your family’s personal story more in-depth? My paper is on traditions and heritage as something that are performed. Please let me know. Thanks! Brenda
Love your pixies your very good at making them
Love your pixies so adorable
My favorites are the felt ones; those cute little guys feature hair that either sweeps upward, or curls at the forehead. So cute, mischievous, and even a little…sexy!
Oh, and that bunny is SOOO cute! Adorabunny, fer SHURR!
Looking for a large knee hugger that my Mom says came with a whittmans box of candy in the 60’s. Looking for this elf but cannot find one.
I HAVE ABOUT 6 OF THE ELVES FROM THE JOY SOAP BOTTLES. GOT THEM FROM MY MOM . 3 OF THE RED SUITS . 3 OF THE GREEN IF ANY ONE IS INTERSTRED LET ME KNOW
I have a pixie I think it was my grandma’s and I would love to know more like age and value?
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