The Yule Lads
The Yule Lads, or Yulemen, (Icelandic: jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar) are figures from Icelandic folklore who in modern times have become the Icelandic version of Santa Claus. The Yule Lads originate from Icelandic folklore. The Yule Lads were originally portrayed as being mischievous, or even criminal, pranksters who would steal from, or in other way harass the population (at the time mostly rural farmers). They all had descriptive names that conveyed their modus operandi. The Yule Lads are traditionally said to be the sons of the mountain-dwelling trolls Grýla and Leppalúði. They would trek from the mountains to scare Icelandic children who misbehaved before Christmas. Additionally, the Yule Lads are often depicted with the Yule Cat, a beast that, according to folklore, eats children who don’t receive new clothes for Christmas. Early on their number and depictions varied greatly depending on location, with each individual Lad ranging from mere pranksters to homicidal monsters who eat children.
In 1932 the poem “Jólasveinarnir” was published as a part of the popular poetry book “Jólin Koma” (“Christmas Arrives”) by Icelandic poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum. Their number are considered to be thirteen. They put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children in window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve. Every night, one Yuletide lad visits each child, leaving gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on the child’s behavior throughout the year.
Each night in the two weeks before Christmas, one of the Yule Lads will come down from the mountains around Dimmuborgir – each Yule Lad will remain largely hidden and will cause trouble around the homes and farms of Iceland. Each will remain for two weeks, leaving one at a time in the two weeks following Christmas.
Names in English are based on Hallberg Hallmundsson’s translation of the poem.
Sheep-Cote Clod/ Stekkjastaur: He harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs. This troll arrives December 12 and departs December 25.
Gully Gawk/ Giljagaur: He hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. Gully Hawk arrives December 13 and departs December 26.
Stubby/ Stúfur: He is abnormally short. Stubby steals pans to eat the crust left on them. He arrives December 14 and departs December 27.
Spoon Licker/ Þvörusleikir: Steals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle) to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition. Arrives December 15 and leaves December 29.
Pot Scraper/ Pottaskefill: Steals leftovers from pots. Arrives December 16, leaves December 29.
Bowl Licker/ Askasleikir: Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their ‘askur’ (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes), which he then steals. Arrives December 17 and leaves December 30.
Door Slammer/ Hurðaskellir: Likes to slam doors, especially during the night. Arrives December 18 and leaves December 31.
Skyr Gobbler/ Skyrgámur: A Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr (an Icelandic dairy product a bit like natural yoghurt). Arrives December 19 and leaves January 1.
Sausage Swiper/ Bjúgnakrækir: Would hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked. Arrives December 20 and leaves January 2.
Window Peeper/ Gluggagægir: A voyeur who would look through windows in search of things to steal. Arrives December 21 and leaves January 3
Doorway Sniffer/ Gáttaþefur: Has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð (lace or leaf bread). Arrives December 22 and leaves January 4.
Meat Hook/ Ketkrókur: Uses a hook to steal meat. Arrives December 23 and leaves January 5.
Candle Stealer/ Kertasníkir: Follows children in order to steal their candles (which in those days was made of tallow and thus edible). Arrives December 24 and leaves January 6.
Other Important Characters
Gryla The Child Eater/ Grýla: An Icelandic troll, mother of the Yule Lads.
Leppaludi/ Leppalúði: Lazy wretch and father of the Yule Lads.
The Yuletide Cat/ Jólaköttur: Grýla’s pet cat that eats children who do not receive new clothes at Christmas.