The Yule Lads are part of traditional Icelandic lore dating back over a hundred years. While some draw comparisons to Santa Claus because they give children gifts, the Lads and Santa have very little in common.
The Yule Lads descended from trolls, Grýla the Ogress and her weak willed spouse Leppalúði, to be precise.
In the past, the number of Yule Lads varied depending on the part of the country you were in but in 1862 the poet Jón Árnason published a poem detailing 13 Yule Lads and their various proclivities. This is what Icelanders have gone by since.
To begin with the Yule Lads were sinister and were used to frighten young children into behaving well but over the years they’ve mellowed out into mild-mannered vagrants who skulk into town from their home in the mountains, one Yule Lad a night for 13 nights before Christmas.
Tonight, Icelandic children across the country will place their shoes in their bedroom window. If they have behaved well they will wake up tomorrow morning to find a gift in their shoe, if they’ve misbehaved, a potato.
As each of the 13 Yule Lads roll into town the Grapevine will be publishing a daily Yule Calendar documenting the new misadventures of the Lads.
Additionally, the National Museum in Reykjavík presents actors dressed as Yule Lads, one Yule Lad for every day before Christmas. They show up at 11 am each day at the museum’s location on Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík.
The Yule Lads, An Introduction
December 12: The very first Yule Lad is Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), a stiff-legged guy who comes into town to harass sheep and drink milk from the farmers’ ewes. Yes, you read right.
December 13: Giljagaur (Gully Gawk) arrives. Before the days of milking machines, he would sneak into cowsheds and skim the froth off the pails of milk.
December 14: Stúfur (Stubby) arrives and just as his name implies, he’s short. For a time he was also known as Pönnuskefill (pan-scraper), as he scraped scraps of food off the pans.
December 15: Þvörusleikir (Spoon Licker) comes into town to steal wooden spoons that have been used for stirring food. Then, you guessed it, he licks the spoons. When he visits the National Museum, he actually goes looking for wooden spoons.
December 16: Pottaskefill (Pot Scraper) arrives to snatch unwashed pots from the sink eat the scraps.
December 17: Askasleikir (Bowl Licker) hides under beds and if someone puts a traditional lidded wooden food bowl called ‘askur’ on the floor, he grabs it and licks it clean.
December 18: Hurðaskellir (Door-slammer) is an awfully noisy Yule Lad. He likes to slam doors to keep people awake at night.
December 19: Skyrgámur (Skyr Gobbler) comes into town to sneak into pantries or fridges and gobble up all the skyr in the house.
December 20: Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper) predictably, loves sausages of all kinds and swipes and eats them at any given opportunity.
December 21: Gluggagægir (Window Peeper) comes down from the mountains to indulge in light voyeurism. He is not as greedy as some of his brothers, but pretty nosy.
December 22: Gáttaþefur (Door Sniffer) comes calling. He has a big nose and he uses it to sniff out baked goods, specifically Laufabrauð, a delicate deep-fried Icelandic bread made during Christmas time.
December 23: Ketkrókur (Meat Hook) arrives on St. Þorlákur’s Day with his hook in hand and a hankering for some meat. In olden days he would use his hook pull down a leg of lamb hanging from the rafters, or a bit of smoked lamb from a pan, as smoked lamb was traditionally cooked on St. Þorlákur’s Day.
December 24: Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar) comes on Christmas Eve. Before electricity, candlelight 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. It’s worth noting that Icelandic candles used to be made from tallow – which is edible and basically once Candle Beggar got his paws on them, he’d eat them.