Yule Lads

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The Yuletide-lads, Yule Lads, or Yulemen (Icelandic: jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar), are figures from Icelandic folklore, portrayed as being mischievous pranksters, but who have in modern times also been depicted as taking on a more benevolent role similar to Santa Claus (Father Christmas). Their number has varied over time, but currently there are considered to be thirteen.[1] They put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children on window sills during the last thirteen nights before Yule (Christmas). Every night, one Yuletide lad visits each child, leaving gifts or rotting potatoes,[2] depending on the child’s behaviour throughout the year.

History and origins

The yule-themed milk carton from MS, portraying Stekkjarstaur, Giljagaur, Ketkrókur, and Skyrgámur.

The Yuletide-lads originate from Icelandic folklore.[3] Early on their number and depictions varied greatly depending on location, with each individual Lad ranging from a mere prankster[4] to a homicidal monster who eats children.[5]

In 1932, the poem "Jólasveinarnir" was published as a part of the popular poetry book Jólin Koma ("Christmas Is Coming") by Icelandic poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum. The poem reintroduced Icelandic society to Icelandic Yuletide folklore and established what is now considered the canonical thirteen Yuletide-lads, their personalities and connection to other folkloric characters.[6][clarification needed]

Modern depictions

The Yuletide-lads are portrayed as being mischievous, or even criminal, pranksters who sometimes steal from, or otherwise harass the population,[7] and all have descriptive names that convey their modus operandi.

In modern times the Yuletide-lads have been depicted as also taking on a more benevolent role[8] comparable to Santa Claus and other related figures. They are generally depicted as wearing late medieval style Icelandic clothing[9], but are sometimes shown wearing the costume traditionally worn by Santa Claus, especially at children's events.

The Yuletide-lads are said to be the sons of the mountain-dwelling trolls Grýla and her husband, Leppalúði. Grýla is big and scary, with an appetite for the flesh of mischievous children, whom she is sometimes depicted as putting in a large pot and make into stew.[10] Grýla is said to trek from the mountains to scare Icelandic children who misbehaved before Christmas.[11][12] Her husband is smaller and weaker, and mostly stays at home in his cave, lazy and mindless. They are depicted with the Yule Cat, a beast that, according to folklore, eats children who do not receive new clothes for Christmas.[11]

List of Yuletide-lads

The Yuletide-lads are said to "come to town" during the last 13 nights before Christmas. Below are the 'official' thirteen Yuletide-lads in the order they arrive (and depart).

Names in English are based on Hallberg Hallmundsson's translation of the poem.[13]

Icelandic name English translation Description Arrival Departure
Stekkjarstaur Sheep-Cote Clod Harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs. 12 December 25 December
Giljagaur Gully Gawk Hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. 13 December 26 December
Stúfur Stubby Abnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them. 14 December 27 December
Þvörusleikir Spoon-Licker Steals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle – I. þvara) to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition. 15 December 28 December
Pottaskefill Pot-Scraper Steals leftovers from pots. 16 December 29 December
Askasleikir Bowl-Licker 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. 17 December 30 December
Hurðaskellir Door-Slammer Likes to slam doors, especially during the night, waking people up. 18 December 31 December
Skyrgámur Skyr-Gobbler A Yule Lad with a great affinity for skyr. 19 December 1 January
Bjúgnakrækir Sausage-Swiper Hides in the rafters and snatches sausages that are being smoked. 20 December 2 January
Gluggagægir Window-Peeper A snoop who looks through windows in search of things to steal. 21 December 3 January
Gáttaþefur Doorway-Sniffer Has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð. 22 December 4 January
Ketkrókur Meat-Hook Uses a hook to steal meat. 23 December 5 January
Kertasníkir Candle-Stealer Follows children in order to steal their candles (which were once made of tallow and thus edible). 24 December 6 January

See also


  1. ^ "Celebrating Christmas with 13 trolls". Promote Iceland. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  2. ^ Robert, Zoe (20 December 2007). "Bad Santas". Iceland Review. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  3. ^ Chalk, Andy (18 December 2012). "Eve Online Introduces the "Yule Lads"". The Escapist. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  4. ^ "The Yule Lads". National Museum of Iceland. Archived from the original on 30 October 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  5. ^ Arnarsdóttir, Eygló Svala (22 December 2010). "Forgotten Yule Lads and Lasses". Iceland Review. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  6. ^ "The Best Places to Spend Christmas". Travel and Leisure. 30 November 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  7. ^ Nannaa (23 December 2008). "The Yule Lads: Friends or Foes?". Iceland Review. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  8. ^ Lam, Tiffany (24 November 2010). "Top 10 places to spend your 2010 Christmas". CNN Travel. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  9. ^ Nightengale, Laura (25 December 2012). "Yule lads: Peoria woman's family surprises her with Icelandic folklore". Journal Star. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  10. ^ Titus, Tim (2 December 2017). "Column: the 13 Yule Lads of Iceland". The Wild Hunt. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Jólakötturinn, Grýla og Leppalúði". jolamjolk.is (in Icelandic). Mjólkursamsalan (MS). Archived from the original on 2 December 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  12. ^ Proctor, Lucy (24 December 2012). "Bogeymen: Five scary visitors in the night". BBC News Online. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  13. ^ "Hallberg Hallmundson's translation of 'Jólasveinarnir' by Jóhannes úr Kötlum". Jóhannes úr Kötlum, skáld þjóðarinnar. Archived from the original on 22 December 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2008.

External links

  • "Christmas in Iceland". Embassy of Iceland, Washington DC. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013.
  • "Grýla og jólasveinar". jol.ismennt.is. Archived from the original on 18 November 2005. Pictures by Halldor Petursson ca. 1950.
  • "The Yule Lads". Jo's Icelandic Recipes. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015.
  • "Jólasveinarnir (Yuletide Lads)". Yule in Iceland. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011.
  • Petursson, Olafur. "The Yuletide Lads". Bokband.com. Archived from the original on 22 December 2007. A translation of the poem by Jóhannes úr Kötlum.
  • "Christmas in Iceland". jol.ismennt.is. Archived from the original on 11 November 2006. A comprehensive site on Christmas in Iceland with much information about Yule Lads and Grýla.
  • Gunnell, Terry. "Grýla, Grýlur, Grøleks and Skeklers: Folk Drama in the North Atlantic in the Early Middle Ages?". jol.ismennt.is. Archived from the original on 13 October 2006.
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