View of Reykjavik - Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland’s 13 Yule Lads

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Every country has their unique holiday traditions. In Iceland, children get a visit from not one, but thirteen Yule Lads, mischievous little fellows who take turns visiting children on the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas. Each night beginning on December12, children place a shoe on the windowsill. If they have been good, they receive candy. If not, the Yule Lad fills the shoe with rotting potatoes.

According to folklore, the Yule Lads used to be a lot creepier. In 1746, Iceland officially banned parents from telling their children scary stories about the Yule Lads. Today, they are harmless creatures that like to play tricks. Each one has a different personality, although their names were highly debated until recently. According to the National Museum of Iceland, a poem about the Yule Lads by Jóhannes úr Kötlum made their names those that most Icelanders know the Yule Lads by today.

Iceland Yule Lads
Photo courtesy of National Museum of Iceland.

The thirteen Yule Lads and their mischievous traits are:

  • Stekkjarstaur – “Sheep-Cote Clod” – harasses sheep, but is impaired by stiff peg-legs
  • Giljaguar – “Gully-Gawk” – hides in gullies, waiting for a chance to sneak into cowsheds and steal milk
  • Stúfur – “Stubby” – unusually short, steals pans to eat the crust left on them
  • Þvörusleikir – “Spoon-Licker” – steals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle) to lick and is extremely thin due to malnutrition
  • Askasleikir – “Bowl-Licker” – Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their “askur” (a bowl with a lid used instead of dishes) which he steals
  • Hurðaskellir – “Door-Slammer” – likes to slam doors, especially at night
  • Skyrgámur – “Skyr-Gobbler” – has an affinity for ‘skyr,’ an Icelandic dairy product similar to yogurt
  • Bjúgnakrækir – “Sausage-Swiper” – hides in the rafters and snatches sausages being smoked
  • Gluggagægir – “Window-Peeper” – peeks into windows in search of things to steal
  • Gáttaþefur – “Doorway-Sniffer” – has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell he uses to locate laufabrauð, a traditional Icelandic bread eaten at Christmas
  • Ketkrókur – “Meat-Hook” – uses a hook to steal meat
  • Kertasníkir – “Candle-Stealer” –steals candles from children which were once made with tallow and were edible

Besides the Yule Lads, the Icelandic children also have to contend with the legends of Grýla, a creature said to be the mother of the Yule Lads who comes down from the mountains to boil naughty children, and the Yule Cat, a giant black cat that prowls the country on Christmas Eve and eats anyone not wearing at least one new piece of clothing.

If you’re in Iceland this time of year, be on the lookout for mischief caused by these lads!

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