Grýla and Leppalúði are the parents of the Yuletide Lads, and their pet is the Christmas Cat. Children feared all these characters in times past.
On December 12 the Yuletide Lads begin to come to town. The first is Stekkjarstaur (Sheepfold Stick), who would try to drink the milk from the farmers’ ewes.
On December 13 Giljagaur (Gully Oaf) arrives. Before the days of milking machines, he would sneak into the cowshed and skim the froth off the pails of milk.
The Lad who arrives on December 14 is Stúfur (Shorty), who, as his name implies, is on the small side. He was also known as Pönnuskefill (pan-scraper), as he scraped scraps of food off the pans.
On December 15, Þvörusleikir (Spoon-licker) comes down from the mountains. He would steal the wooden spoon that had been used for stirring. When he visits the National Museum, he goes looking for wooden spoons.
On December 16, Pottasleikir (Pot-licker) comes visiting. He tried to snatch pots that had not been washed, and lick the scraps from them.
Askasleikir (Bowl-licker) arrives on December 17. He hid under beds, and if someone put his wooden food-bowl in the floor, he grabbed it and licked it clean.
Hurðaskellir (Door-slammer) comes on December 18. He is an awfully noisy fellow, who is always slamming doors and keeping people awake.
The Lad who is expected on December 19 is called Skyrgámur (Curd Glutton), because he loves skyr (milk curd) so much that he sneaks into the pantry and gobbles up all the skyr from the tub there.
Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Pilferer) comes on December 20. He loves sausages of all kinds, and steals them whenever he can.
On December 21, Gluggagægir (Peeper) arrives. He is not as greedy as some of his brothers, but awfully nosy, peeping through windows and even stealing toys he likes the look of.
On December 22 Gáttaþefur (Sniffer) comes calling. He has a big nose, and he loves the smell of cakes being baked for Christmas. He often tries to snatch a cake or two for himself.
December 22 was sometimes called hlakkandi (looking forward), because the children had started looking forward to Christmas.
On 23 December, St. Þorlákur’s Day, Ketkrókur (Meat Hook) arrives. He adores all meat. In olden days he would lower a hook down the kitchen chimney and pull up a leg of lamb hanging from a rafter, or a bit of smoked lamb from a pan, as smoked lamb was traditionally cooked on St. Þorlákur’s Day.
Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar) comes on Christmas Eve, December 24. In olden times, candle light was the brightest light available. Candles were so rare and precious that it was a treat for children to be given a candle at Christmas. And poor Candle Beggar wanted one too.
During the 13 days before Christmas, the National Museum presents actors dressed as Jólasveinar. National Museum, Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík. Tel. 530 2200.
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!