The Icelandic Yule Lads and their dysfunctional Christmas family

In Iceland we have a very disfunctional Christmas family living in the moutains. Who are the Yule Lads, why is their mother so evil and what is the deal with the Christmas cat?

In Iceland there is no Santa Claus, instead we have 13 mischievous, half trolls called Yule Lads. They come to town from December 11th – 24th, one after the other.

During that time children leave their shoe in the window hoping for a small treat from them. If the children misbehave however, they will only get a potato in their shoe.

Each Yule Lad has a certain personality and a fitting name. Many of them are hungry for food like Spoon Licker, Sausage swiper, Meat Hook and Skyr Gobbler. We also have the annoying Door Slammer, Door Sniffer and the pervy Window Peeper.

 The Yule Lads live in the mountains with their mother Grýla who is the most horrible troll woman who will boil and eat children that misbehave, their father Leppa-lúði who is a notorious looser and the Christmas Cat that will eat those who are so unfortunate to not get a new clothing before Christmas.

 

Forget everything about the nice Santa Claus, introducing the Yule Lads! (photo: Dimmuborgir)

 

 

Sheep-Cote Clod (Stekkjastaur) is the first Yule Lad to arrive. He has wooden legs and needs a walking stick for his walk from the mountains. He is a prankster like his brothers and his mission is to go to the outhouses, find the sheep and steal their milk.

 

 

 

The poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem for each of the Yule Lads. These poems are known by most Icelanders and are tought to school children in December.

 

Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Cote Clod:
The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod.
He came stiff as wood,
to prey upon the farmer’s sheep
as far as he could.
He wished to suck the ewes,
but it was no accident

he couldn’t; he had stiff knees
– not to convenient.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Stekkjastaur – Sheep cod was the first one (Illustration: Halldór)

 

Gully Gawk (Giljagaur) came second. He came down the mountain through the gully. His speciality is going to the barn and stealing milk from the cows.

 

Today we have a beer called Giljagaur. Wonder if it tastes like milk!

 

Giljagaur – Gully Gawk:
The second was Gully Gawk,
gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.
Hiding in the stalls,
he would steal the milk, while
the milkmaid gave the cowherd
a meaningful smile.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Stealing the cows milk (illustration: Halldór)

 

Stubby (Stúfur) is the third Yule Lad. He has nothing going for him except being short, very short. As a result he is the childrens favorite lad.

Oh and he snatched the pan from the kitchen and scraped off the burned bits at the bottom as those where is favorite. Every kitchen should have a Stubby to help clean the pans!

 

Stúfur – Stubby:
Stubby was the third called,
a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance
to whisk off a pan.
And scurrying away with it,
he scraped off the bits
that stuck to the bottom
and brims – his favorites.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

 

Spoon-Licker (Þvörusleikir) was a tall and thin lad. He liked to go into the kitchen and lick the stirring spoons clean. Such a weird obsession!

 

Þvörusleikir – Spoon-Licker:
The fourth was Spoon Licker;
like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover
when the cook wasn’t in.
Then stepping up, he grappled
the stirring spoon with glee,
holding it with both hands
for it was slippery.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Yule Lads of Iceland

Why lick the spoons?

Pot-Scrapter (Pottaskefill) arrived today. His speciality are pots. More specifically to steal the pots and scrape the leftovers from the bottom of them and eating them. One would think it would make a better meal if the pots were stolen before they were emptied of their content.

 

Pottaskefill – Pot-Scraper:
Pot Scraper, the fifth one,
was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings,
he’d come to the door and tap.
And they would rush to see
if there really was a guest.
Then he hurried to the pot
and had a scraping fest.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Licking pots makes more sense! (Illustration: MS)

 

Bowl-Licker (Askasleikir) comes to town on the 17th of December. To get nutrition he licks the „askur“ bowl clean.

Askur was a traditional food container that people used in the olden days. It was made from wood with a lid. When people had finished their meal they would usually place the askur under their bed where the dogs would lick it clean, only after this date Bowl-Licker would position himself under the bed waiting for his meal.

Askasleikir – Bowl-Licker:
Bowl Licker, the sixth one,
was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads
he stuck his ugly head.
And when the bowls were left
to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself
– he was sure good at that!

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Askasleikir had to be quick to get the askur before the dog did. (illustration: Brian Pilkington)

Door-Slammer (Hurðaskellir) is the 7th Yule lad. He has the annoying habit of slamming every door he sees.

If people wanted to take a nap in the afternoon darkness he would lurk around and then slam the door extra hard as they were falling asleep. Now isn‘t that just lovely?

Hurðaskellir – Door-Slammer:
The seventh was Door Slammer,
a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight
would take a little nap,
he was happy as a lark
with the havoc he could wreak,
slamming doors and hearing
the hinges on them squeak.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Shut the front door! (illustration: Brian Pilkington)

Skyr-Gobbler (Skyrgámur) loved his skyr.

Back in the day the skyr was kept in the pantry in large wooden containers and would last for months. Skyr-Gobbler would sneak into the pantry, break the wooden lid and whisk up a handful of skyr and eat and eat until he almost exploded.

Today however, the Yule-Lads will have their Skyr in the modern plastic container and a spoon.

 

Skyrgámur – Skyr-Gobbler:
Skyr Gobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.
Then he stood there gobbling
– his greed was well known –
until, about to burst,
he would bleat, howl and groan.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Gobbling skyr, gobble, gobble, gobble (illustration: Brian Pilkington)

Sausage – Swiper (Bjúgnakrækir) was the ninth Yule Lad to arrive.

He liked sausages, in particular he liked „Bjúgu“, a large sausage made from lamb or horse meat that was smoked in the rafters. He would sit on the rafters waiting for this chance to snatch the sausages and eat it whole.

Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage-Swiper:
The ninth was Sausage Swiper,
a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters
and raided food from there.
Sitting on a crossbeam
in soot and in smoke,
he fed himself on sausage
fit for gentlefolk.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Sneaking away with the sausage! (illustration: Brian Pilkington)

Window-Peeper is surely the perviest of the Yule-Lads.

His thing is to sneak up to peoples windows and peek through them, particularely during the night. He is probably looking for things he can later steal.

Our favorite picture is the top right, where the children are hiding from Santa, under the table. There is something wonderfully thrilling about this picture.

 

Gluggagægir – Window-Peeper:
The tenth was Window Peeper,
a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window
and stole a peek through it.
And whatever was inside
to which his eye was drawn,
he most likely attempted
to take later on.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

WIndow peeper is the perviest one of them all! (illustration: MS)

Doorway Sniffer had an enormous nose and would smell the scent of the delicious Christmas food like lace bread and smoked lamb all the way up to the mountains. He would then sniff his way down to the farms where he would try to snatch a bite to eat.

Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer
Eleventh was Door Sniffer,
a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold, yet had
a huge, sensitive nose.
He caught the scent of lace bread
while leagues away still
and ran toward it weightless
as wind over dale and hill.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Who is there sniffing in the doorway? Doorway Sniffer! (illustration: Halldór)

Meat Hook (Ketkrókur) is no ordinary Santa that brings presents through the chimney to all the good children. No, no, this one would climb up to the roof with his hook and through the chimney he would snatch a piece of smoked lamb hanging in the raft. For him like the other Yule Lads it‘s more about taking than giving during the Christmas season.

Ketkrókur – Meat-Hook:
Meat Hook, the twelfth one,
his talent would display
as soon as he arrived
on Saint Thorlak’s Day.
He snagged himself a morsel
of meat of any sort,
although his hook at times was
a tiny bit short.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Santa uses the chimney to give presents, but Ketkrókur uses it to steal the Christmas steak! (illustration: Tryggvi Magnússon)

 

Candle Beggar (Kertasníkir) was the last Yule Lad to arrive. He would be drawn to the candlelights being lit in the houses. He would lurk around and try to snatch the candles from the little children. Today however the children happily give Candle Beggar a candle or two.

Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar:
The thirteenth was Candle Beggar
– ‘twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last
of the lot on Christmas Eve.
He trailed after the little ones
who, like happy sprites.

Jóhannes úr Kötlum

Candle beggar steals childrens Christmas candles, naturally! (illustration: Brian Pilkington)

Grýla is the mother of the Yule Lads. Forget all about a nice Santa‘s mother who bakes cookies and keeps you warm and safe. No, Grýla is an ogre troll woman who actually hunts down and eats children that have not behaved nicely. She will find them, put them in her big sack, carry them to her cave in the mountains and boil them in a huge cauldron, before eating them.

Grýla looks like a female devil. She has horns on her head, cloven hooves for feet and 15 tails! She has an excellent hearing so she can hear when children are misbehaving. The children of Iceland have been terrified of Grýla for generations and will do everything not to end up in her sack. Luckily Grýla can‘t eat good, quiet kids.

Grýla‘s husband is Leppalúði. He is a lazy trollman who has no function except being Grýla‘s husband and sidekick. In fact he is never mentioned or pictured unless Grýla is with him.

The earliest written records of Grýla are from 13th century and today there are different stories, poems and songs about Grýla linking her to Christmas and the Yule Lads.

So whatever you do this Christmas season, be nice! Not because you will get a present from Santa, but because you will avoid being eaten by Grýla!

Shes got hooves and a tail, is she the devil! No she is the mother of the Yule Lads! (illustration: Brian Pilkington)

 

Yule Cat is the house pet of Grýla and the Yule Lads.

Don‘t think he is a cute little furry thing that purrs and likes being petted. The Yule cat is a huge evil monster that will eat you if you don‘t get a new piece of clothing before Christmas.

So if you are poor and can‘t afford a new dress for the holidays, not only will you be embarressed at the Christmas party, you also be eaten by a huge cat monster!

 

The scariest cat of them all – better get your new clothes on now! (illustration: Hugleikur)

So why is the Icelandic Yule family so evil and scary? How come the Yule Lads only want to steal your food and scare you through the dark windows instead of saying Ho ho ho and giving you presents? Why does Grýla eat children and why on earth does their house pet eat you unless you get a new piece of clothing for Christmas? As Christmas isn‘t stressful enough as it is!

These stories are based on Icelandic folklore dating many centuries back. They have changed over the years but have scared the living daylights out of people, generation after generation.

Thankfully in the recent decades people have realized that treating children and the poor with kindness is a good thing! As a result the Yule Lads and Grýla have somewhat softened up. The Yule lads are now more clumpsy, silly and funny instead of mischivious and evil and Grýla has stopped eating children as she is now vegan!

However the Yule Cat is still the same, he will still eat you if you don‘t get a new piece of clothing before Christmas. Back in the day he was used to persuade people to finish knitting the stockings or mittens before Christmas so the Yule Cat would not arrive. Today he is used differently however; to convince children that the wool socks they got from Grandma for Christmas is a good thing, it saved them from getting eaten by a terrifying giant cat!

 

 

Þorrablót – Mid winter festival

Þorrablót – Mid winter festival

Bóndadagur - The day of the husband is coming up. It marks the beginning of the Þorri month, the old traditional viking month for January-February.  Bóndadagur is always on the friday of the 13th week of the winter, so in year 2020 it is on 24th of January.  It means...

read more
Is there a wrong way and a right way to travel in Iceland?

Is there a wrong way and a right way to travel in Iceland?

Is there a wrong way and a right way to travel in Iceland? A new article in Bloomberg suggests so.   If there is a "wrong way", what is the "right way"? Bloombergs article suggests that by following everything Instagram shows you, stopping at the famous "selfie...

read more