All over the world, Christmas is celebrated in various different ways. Most countries have a Santa Claus character that visits each child and leaves gifts under a decorated Christmas Tree. In Iceland, this isn’t the case, the Christmas period begins December 24th and lasts til Epiphany, January 6th, which is the day the wise men visited Jesus in Christian belief. During this period of Christmas, Iceland mixes tradition and religion, exchanging gifts, eating good food and loving those around them.
Not much different than our American Culture… except, the children of Iceland aren’t visited by Santa, they are visited by 13 Yule Lads. Each evening in the 13 days prior to Christmas (January 6th) the children of Iceland place their best shoe in their bedroom window. A Yuletide lad visits in the night and leaves behind a sweet treat or rotting potatoes, depending how well the child has behaved from day to day.
So, where do the Yule Lads come from? They are supposedly the sons of a mountain-dwelling troll, named Gryla. Gryla is described as big and terrifying creature that has a ravenous appetite for the flesh of naughty children. Over time she has often been shown with a large pot, making stew from the flesh of bad children.
Legend has it that Gryla would come down from the mountain to scare naughty children before Christmas. Gryla has a husband, named Leppalúði, he is described as small, weak and the father of the Yule Lads. He often stays in their mountain cave with their beast, Yule Cat.
The Yule Lads begin their descent down the mountain during the last 13 nights before Christmas, beginning on December 24th. They arrive one lad per day and depart in the order they arrived.
Stekkjarstaur or Sheep-Cote Clod in English is the first Lad to arrive on December 12th. He harasses sheep, but is slowed down by his peg legs. His departure is December 25th.
Giljagaur or Gully Gawk in English, arrives on December 13th. He hides in gullies and waits for an opportunity steal milk from cowsheds. He departs on December 26th.
Stúfur or Stubby in English, arrives December 14th. This abnormally short lad steals pans to eat the crust left on them. He departs on December 27th.
Þvörusleikir or Spoon-Licker arrives on December 15th. This lad is extremely thin due to malnutrition and waits to steal wooden spoons to lick them. Departing on December 28th.
Pottaskefill or PotScraper in English arrives on December 16th and steals leftovers from pots and then departing on December 29th.
Askasleikir or Bowl-Licker in English arrives December 17th. He hides under beds waiting for anyone to put down their bowl, so he can steal it. He departs December 30th.
Hurðaskellir or Door-Slammer arrives December 18th and loves to slam doors, particularly in the middle of the night to wake people up. He departs December 31st.
Skyrgámur or Skyr-Gobbler in English arrives December 19th and has a tremendous love for Skyr, which is an Icelandic food that is similar to yogurt. He departs January 1st.
Bjúgnakræk or Sausage-Swiper arrives December 20th and hides in the rafters to snatch sausages that are being smoked. He departs January 2nd.
Gluggagægir or Window-Peeper arrives December 21st and snoops through windows seeking items to steal. He departs January 3rd.
Gáttaþefur or Doorway-Sniffer arrives December 22nd. This lad has a huge nose and a super acute sense of smell which is used to locate laufabrauð which is a traditional Icelandic bread. He departs January 4th.
Ketkrókur or Meat-Hook in English arrives December 23rd. He uses a hook to steal meat and departs January 5th.
Kertasníkir or Candle-Stealer in English arrives December 24th. He follows children in order to steal candles. (Back then candles were made from tallow, beef, and were edible.) He departs January 6th.
Aside from the 13 Yule Lads and their parents, the family is not complete without their Yule Cat or Jólakötturinn in Icelandic. This cat is said to be huge, vicious and often lurks the snowy countryside during Christmas time. This monstrous cat is said to eat people who have not received new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve.
For now, I think i’ll will be simply stick to leaving some milk and cookies for Santa and a few carrots for the reindeer. Definitely won’t be leaving a shoe of any kind in my bedroom window!