Santa didn’t always have elves, but he’s always had a tradition of surrounding himself with minorities.
Our good friend Sinterklaas has Zwarte Piet. At first glance, Zwarte Piet looks like a man dressed in black face. In fact, he probably was. He’s described as a black man, dressed in Asian clothing, and is St. Nicholas’ servant. To celebrate, many Dutch continue to dress like this jackass below.
Story has it that St. Nick used to be accompanied by the Devil, who’s occupation was to terrorize the bad little children. If you were a bad little Dutch child, you not only got coal in your stocking, but you would be water-boarded by Zwarte Piet as well. Basically imagine Dick Cheney in blackface. (Cause he shoots people on hunting trips, and there was all of that torture during those years, and he is like Darth Vader, get it? No? No one thinks that is as hilarious as me.)
Then, one year on Christmas Eve, there was a light-saber battle or something, and St. Nick triumphed over evil, shackled Zwarte Piet, and forced him into slavery.
What I’ve learned from this is that the Dutch saw Africans as the Devil, and since St. Nick was cool with having slaves, they should be too.
Fun Christmas Fact: In America, Zwarte Piet is known as "Black Peter." White Peter was tired of getting his calls and had to distinguish himself from the other Peter.
Another devil reference is Krampus, a part goat-human that accompanied the Austrian Santa. He essentially had the same role as Zwarte Piet, but is a hell of a lot scarier.
In other news, Austrian children are able to run on less than two hours of sleep a night during the month of December.
Santa then switched to using shorter, pointed eared elves. There’s not much of a background on why elves. As far as I can tell there wasn't a set in stone Santa mythology, and Louisa May Alcott tried to cash in on these elves she made up in the book called Christmas Elves. She never published, but none the less, the elves remain.
Fun Christmas Fact: The politically correct thing to call Elves are "Little Helpers."
My personal thoughts on why Santa changed to elves are as follows:
1) He needed help. Anyone could do this, even monkeys.
2) He needed protection from Orcs, Dragons, Yeti, and evil Wizards. The elves are known for their bow skills. It just makes sense to score a two for one deal. Get help making toys and protection.
3) Thanks to Abraham Lincoln and friends, it was no longer kosher to have slaves, even if it was the devil.
4) Krampus ... well look at Krampus. Do you want to be tied to that? Not the best way to extend business.
5) Santa needed to consolidate his work force. Times were hard and the business of giving things away wasn't exactly paying the bills. Outsourcing to the elves helped his bottom line and his stock holders concerns.