At St. Petersburg’s Shopapalooza, customers packed inside the tent for vendor Gnome Sweet Gnome.
The $45 handmade gnomes were selling fast. Forget elf on the shelf.
There were Santa Clause gnomes. Hanukkah gnomes. Easter bunny gnomes. St. Patrick’s Day gnomes and Valentine’s Day gnomes. There were non-holiday versions of the mythical creatures too, like cowboy gnome, pig gnome, sports fan gnome and a ... Guy Fieri gnome?
With each purchase, owner of Gnome Sweet Gnome Ellen Noble and her husband Tim packed the gnomes in a clear plastic shopping bag lined with green confetti paper and a wooden crate for the pointy-hatted and bearded dolls to sit on and look they’re in their natural habitat: a garden.
When Noble first started her business out of Miami three years ago, she didn’t realize how popular gnomes were becoming.
“Gnomes are supposed to be mythological creatures that ward off evil and allow the good,” Noble said. “So I was thinking the same thing with people, just stop worrying about things that are bothering you and start thinking about what you have.”
At first, she wanted to spread the joy of gnomes for Christmas time. Her business evolved to include holidays year-round. Then people asked for custom designs that didn’t involve holidays at all such as the coffee-lover gnome or a Disney-themed gnome.
Across Florida, Noble said flamingo and beach gnomes have been a hit.
Gnomes are having a moment
It’s not just her business. The popularity of gnomes across the U.S. has been rising the past few years.
Stores like Target, Five Below, Dollar Tree and HomeGoods are stocked with gnome products from figurines, throw pillows, wrapping paper to gnome cookie making kits.
The desire to buy gnomes has skyrocketed since 2019. The number of shoppers searching for gnome products through Google Shopping peaked in November 2022, according to Google Trends.
These whimsical creatures have been around for centuries with roots in Scandinavian folklore and Roman traditions. But it was Germany in the 1800s that popularized the idea of lawn gnomes as garden ornaments, according to the Washington Post.
In popular culture, movies like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “The Smurfs” and the 2011 franchise “Gnomeo & Juliet” (which spawned a sequel and the spinoff “Sherlock Gnomes” in 2018) renewed interest in the creatures.
Then the pandemic hit and “cottagecore” — a trending aesthetic of rural European life and fairytale elements — took off as people in quarantine looked for inspiration to romanticize domestic life. With that came a wave of fascination in fairies, mushrooms and forest foraging. It’s even sparked an offshoot aesthetic called “gnomecore.”
A rising Christmas symbol
Since the pandemic, people are gravitating toward things that make them feel happy and cozy more than ever, said Carol Osborne, a marketing and advertising expert at the University of South Florida. That has helped gnomes take off.
“People really love them,” Osborne said. “Or they’re very creeped out about them.”
Brands are catching on to the craze, she said, and increasingly promoting gnomes as if they were essential Christmas items in the vein of wreaths, lights or trees.
“They’ve made it into that first level of Christmas holiday decorations,” Osborne said. “The gnome has a starring part now.”
It helps that they bear a striking resemblance to both the commercialized image of Santa Clause and his helper elves with their pointed red hats, white beards and mischievous attitudes. Gnomes give a fresh twist on classic Christmas tropes.
Last year, German-based Aldi — Florida’s fastest growing grocer with plans to acquire Winn-Dixie — released its first U.S. holiday advertisement campaign introducing sassy gnome characters working behind-the-scenes to stock shelves.
“Watch your back, elves,” Aldi posted on TikTok. “Now the world knows it’s actually gnomes doing all the holiday work.”
Simple and customizable
Part of the gnomes’ popularity lies in their simplicity, said Peggy Palmer, a Florida artist who uses recycled goods.
She started selling them for her business Out of the Can three years ago, just as gnomes became trendy.
“I just thought they were cute,” Palmer said.
While traditional garden gnomes have rosy-cheek faces, more and more gnomes products are minimalist with no facial features. All a gnome needs is an oversized cap, a big-button nose and a long beard or braided pigtails.
Following each Christmas boom gnomes have had since 2019, Google Trends data shows interest in them has grown higher throughout the rest of the year too.
It’s helped gnomes stay relevant beyond just Christmas. This September — with Labor Day as its only major holiday — nearly the same amount of people looked up gnomes products as they did during the holiday season five years ago, Google Trends data shows.
Palmer sells butterfly gnomes for the spring and scarecrow gnomes for the fall. And with their simple features, she can make gnomes out of anything from Christmas stockings, plant pots or even Jenga blocks.
“They have so much personality without even having eyes. It’s just the placement of the nose and the beard and that type of thing,” Palmer said. ”You can adapt them for every season.”