Iceland’s Yule Lads have been called everything from the 13 Santa Clauses of Iceland to Christmas trolls. Technically, they’re half-troll. These merry mischief makers have been a fixture on the Icelandic Christmas scene since at least the 17th century. Over time their image has morphed from that of the sons of child-eating ogres into a benevolent and more family-friendly holiday concept. During Iceland’s holiday celebrations, the Yuletide Lads bring the 13 Days of Christmas with them from their home in Dimmuborgir, North Iceland. These characters from Icelandic folklore have names that describe their unique personality traits, much like Snow White’s seven dwarves. But unlike the Disney character’s work companions, Iceland Yule Lads are definitely up to no good. Most of their activity revolves around causing mischief, pulling pranks, and eating or stealing food that doesn’t belong to them. Lock up your cupboards and prepare to learn more about the Yulemen of Iceland.
The Holiday Tradition of Iceland’s Yule Lads
The Yule (jól) season is the holiday period that consists of Christmas, New Year’s, and Epiphany. In the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, they pay a visit to Icelandic children. Icelandic kiddies have left shoes in the window and their hopes that they’re good behavior throughout the year has paid off. Well behaved boys and girls get gifts or candy and bad children receive something awful, like rotting potatoes. But this isn’t the biggest danger posed to Icelandic children on Christmas. There’s Jólakötturinn, the black Christmas cat who likes to eat children that aren’t wearing their new Christmas clothes. And we can’t forget the evil troll Grýla, Iceland’s Christmas monster and the Yule Lads’ mother. Once a year she descends from her home in the mountains searching for naughty children she can boil. With all of these dangers around them, it’s no wonder kids in Iceland are so well-behaved!
Who Are The Yule Lads?
Each of the Yule Lads has a name that relates to some unruly behavior or a particular physical trait.
Sheep-Cote Clod (Stekkjarstaur) – Arrives December 12th
This fellow is a fan of harassing sheep and is every farmer (and sheep)’s worst enemy. He likes to slink into the sheep shed so he can suckle the milk from ewes. Unfortunately for him (and luckily for the sheep) his stiff pegleg makes it very difficult for him to accomplish this feat.
Gully Gawk (Giljagaur) – Arrives December 13th
Another Yule Lad providing headaches to farmers all across Iceland. This creeper hides out in gullies (a type of ravine) just waiting for his shot. When he sees an opening, he runs into the cowshed and steals milk.
Stubby (Stúfur) – Arrives December 14th
Short little Stubby also goes by the name of Pan Scraper (Pönnusleikir). In addition to being abnormally short, he also has an affinity for stealing pans so he can lick up the remaining bits of burnt food. And here you thought hákarl was the strangest food in Iceland.
Spoon Licker (Þvörusleikir) – Arrives December 15th
Anyone who cooks knows that licking spoons at least a little is pretty commonplace. The problem with Spoon Licker is that he comes into your kitchen to lick all the wooden spoons and ladles you use to stir food in pots. I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want him doing that in my house!
Pot Scraper (Pottaskefill) – Arrives December 16th
Yet another hungry Yule Lad. Don’t leave your unwashed pots laying around! This Yule Lad will snatch them and steal the leftovers. By licking them off of course. Or if you’re not a huge fan of doing the dishes, just let Spoon Licker, Bowl Licker, and Pot Scraper do as they please.
Bowl Licker (Askasleikir) – Arrives December 17th
This sneaky individual hides under the bed waiting for unsuspecting mortals to put down their askur bowl. He grabs it and proceeds to finish whatever tasty morsel was left.
Door Slammer (Hurðaskellir) – Arrives December 18th
Door Slammer, you naughty boy! He likes to make a lot of noise in the house, especially at night. He walks around loudly, slams doors, and generally tries to keep everyone from getting a good night’s rest.
Skyr Gobbler (Skyrgámur) – Arrives December 19th
Alright, it’s confession time. If we’re being completely honest, I do think that some point in time I have been victimized by Skyr Gobbler. One recent Christmas I had giant, unopened tub of Skyr in the pantry just waiting to be eaten. Who doesn’t love this Icelandic dairy treat with some fresh berries? On the night of December 19th, my Skyr disappeared! Poof! Just like that! Was it you, Skyr Gobbler?
Sausage Swiper (Bjúgnakrækir) – Arrives December 20th
I tell you, these Yule Lads sure love to steal other people’s food. Even more than me! Sausage Swiper can’t get enough of sausages and eats them whenever and wherever he can. He’ll even hide out in order to steal sausages in the process of being smoked.
Window-Peeper (Gluggagægir) – Arrives December 21st
I’m pretty sure window peeping is illegal. And if it’s not, it should be. This Christmas snoop peeks through windows to see if there’s anything interesting going on. He’s not exactly casing the joint, but he has been known to steal a toy or two that he comes across.
Doorway-Sniffer (Gáttaþefur) – Arrives December 22nd
This Icelandic Christmas creeper uses his super-sized schnoz to locate (you guessed it) other people’s food. His eatable of choice is laufabrauð, so hide your traditional flatbread if you don’t want him sniffing it out.
Meat Hook (Ketkrókur) – Arrives December 23rd
This decidedly non-vegetarian Yule Lad uses a hook to swipe meat. Rumor has it he’s even stolen a smoked leg of lamb by lowering one of his extra long hooks down a chimney.
Candle Stealer (Kertasníkir) – Arrives December 24th
You need to know a little bit about candles. Candles here used to be made of tallow, a hard substance made from animal fat, so they were edible. Candle Stealer, like many of his brothers, is hungry and wants to eat. He follows children around so that he can steal their candles. In olden times candles were the only source of light, so this was a big no-no.
Iceland’s 13 Naughty Yule Lads – A Christmas Tradition
Phew! You made it through the 13 days of Icelandic Christmas. Hopefully, you’ve fended off the Yule Lads and their attempts to steal your food and toys or harass you and your sheep. If you’ve been good, remember to put your shoes on the windowsill so you can get a treat. If you find yourself in Iceland at Christmas, enjoy this special tradition and have a Merry Christmas.
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