Icelandic children do not receive visits from the well-known Santa Claus around Christmas. You should not feel sorry for them though because Icelandic children enjoy favours from the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads. These guys are mischievous characters who take turns visiting the children on the 13 nights preceding Christmas.
One by one they travel from their home in the mountains to visit the kids. On the eve of December 12th hopeful children place their shoe on the windowsill excited to see what the first Yule Lad will bring them. For the good boys and girls the Yule Lad will leave a small gift in the shoe, but naughty children can expect a rotten potato. Each morning the kids get a new gift.
The Yule Lads used to be creepy and naughty creatures and were used by parents to frighten their children into behaving. Over time they have become more loving and entertaining and they have even replaced their traditional woollen clothes for red frocks and hats and a long, white beard so their style is now more like the one Santa Claus sports.
Each Yule Lad has a specific idiosyncrasy and behaves in a particular manner.
The first Yule Lad to visit is Sheep-Cote Clod (Stekkjastaur) – He used to harass the sheep and suckle on yews
Second is Gully Gawk (Giljagaur) – He crept into the cowshed and slurped the foam off the milk in the buckets
Third is Stubby (Stúfur) – The shortest of the bunch and used to snatch bits of food from frying pans
Fourth is Spoon Licker (Þvörusleikir) – Used to sneak into houses and lick the wooden spoons used to scrape the pots
Fifth is Pot Scraper (Pottasleikir) – He used to snatch the pots that had not been washed and licked the food remains from the insides
Sixth is Bowl Licker (Askasleikir) – Icelanders used to eat from wooden bools that they kept under the bed. Bowl Licker used to hide under the bed and licke the insides of the bowl
Seventh is Door Slammer (Hurðaskellir) – Makes a lot of noice by slamming every door he finds
Eighth is Skyr Gobble (Skyrgámur) – His favourite food is the Icleandic Skyr, a product similar to thick yogurt
Ninth is Sausage Swiper (Bjúgnakrækir) – He loves to eat sausages and used to steal them whenever he had the chance
Tenth is Window Peeper – Likes to peep through windows and and the past he sometimes nicked interesting toys
Eleventh is Door Sniffer – He has a huge nose and loves the smell of cakes and leaf bread (laufabrauð) and used to steal one or two if he had the chance
Twelfth is Meat Hook (Ketkrókur) – Used to lower a long stick through the chimney to steal a smoked leg of lamb hanging from the rafters
Thirteenth is Candle Beggar (Kertasníkir) – In former days candles were the brightest lights available and they were very rare and precious. Each child wished for their very own candle for Christmas and so did Candle Beggar
This was an introduction to the Icelandic Yule Lads so you can be prepared if you are spending your Christmas in Iceland. If you have already booked your trip you should take a look at our Winter Travel Planning Checklist. You can also download our free ebook - Iceland Made Easy.
Photo by Visit Myvatn