How to avoid getting tricked - or eaten - by Iceland's Christmas trolls
- And, bonus, how to get presents from the 13 Yule Lads
The 13 Yule Lads, their mother Grýla, and the Yule Cat are all members of the same family of trolls associated with Icelandic folklore. They are typically mountain-dwelling, but during the Christmas season, they sometimes visit human settlements, and while some are friendly, others are not.
The 13 Yule Lads and their tricks and treats
If you're planning to visit Iceland during the holiday season, it's a good idea to learn about the Yule Lads and how to avoid ending up on their Christmas buffet. You can also learn the proper procedures for getting the yule lads to bring presents to children.
Known as “jólasveinar” in Icelandic, the Icelandic version of Santa are certainly no saints. They are pranksters with a particular craving that usually reflects in their names; for example, Spoon Licker, Door Slammer, Skyr Gobbler, and Sausage Swiper. In the past, the Yule Lads were seen as mischievous pranksters who were not particularly well-liked. However, in recent times, their image has been rehabilitated and they are now seen as more light-hearted and fun-loving.
Visit the yule lads in their natural habitat
The yule lads have made Dimmuborgir (dark fortresses) at lake Mývatn in North Iceland their base in December. Dimmuborgir is a phenomenal area to explore, both in winter and summer. The landscape is otherworldly, and visiting the yule lads there is an unforgettable experience for kids of all ages. Here you can check out the Yule Lads schedule in Dimmuborgir.
How to get a gift from the Yule-Lads
Many Icelandic children now leave their shoes by the window, hoping the Yule Lads will leave them a small gift. In the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas, the Yule Lads arrive one by one from the mountains carrying gifts, and allegedly a bag of potatoes for misbehaving children but we wouldn't know anything about that!
A note to children: Try your best to behave in Iceland and keep a shoe on the window from 11-24th December and you may receive a small treat.
A note to parents and caregivers: You may need to assist the Yule Lads with putting the gifts in the shoe; they can be a bit clumsy ;)
The first Yule Lad, known as Sheep-Cote Clod arrives 13 nights before Christmas on the 12th of December and the last one, Kandle-Beggar, on the 24th of December, the day Icelanders celebrate Christmas. Each character stays among humans for 13 days, so the first one leaves on December 25th and the last one, Candle-Beggar, on the 6th of January, which has the name “Þrettándinn” (The Thirteenth) and marks the end of the Christmas season in Iceland. The Thirteenth is normally celebrated with bonfires and leftover fireworks and in some towns a parade of elves and trolls.
The Yule Lads, in order of appearance:
1. Sheep-Cote Clod (Stekkjastaur) – 12th-25th December
2. Gully Gawk (Giljagaur) – 13th-26th December
3. Stubby (Stúfur) – 14th-27th December
4. Spoon Licker (Þvörusleikir) – 15th-28th December
5. Pot Licker (Pottasleikir) – 16th-29th December
6. Bowl Licker (Askasleikir) -17th-30th December
7. Door Slammer (Hurðaskellir) – 18th-31st December
8. Skyr Gobbler (Skyrgámur) – 19th December - 1st January
9. Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper) – 20th December - 2nd January
10. Window Peeper (Gluggagægir) – 21st December - 3rd January
11. Door Sniffer (Gáttaþefur) – 22nd December - 4th January
12. Meat Hook (Ketrókur) – 23rd December - 5th January
13. Candle Beggar (Kertasníkir) — 24th December - 6th January
Grýla and Leppalúði - The Yule lad's horrible parents
The 13 troll brothers are said to live in the mountains with their mother, Grýla, and her husband, Leppalúði. Grýla is a fearsome troll, often depicted with long claws, a tail, hoofs and a menacing expression, and Leppalúði is a lumbering oaf known for his clumsiness. According to the folklore, Grýlas’ favorite Christmas dish is naughty children, softly boiled in a cauldron. According to legend, Grýla only comes down from the mountains during Christmas to search for misbehaved children. When she finds them, she puts them in a large sack she carries on her back and carries them to her cave. In order to avoid being eaten by Grýla, children are advised to be well-behaved and follow the rules set by their parents. By being good and not causing any trouble, children can avoid attracting the attention of Grýla and stay out of harm's way.
A fun fact: Icicles are called “grýlukerti” in Icelandic which means Grýla’s candles.
The family pet - the giant yule cat
The Yule Cat is another figure from Icelandic folklore that is associated with the Christmas season. It is a large, vicious cat with glowing eyes that prowls the mountains, on Christmas night, searching for people who have not received new clothes to wear for Christmas. If it finds someone in old clothes, it will eat them or steal their food.
Overall, the Icelandic Yule Lads are a fascinating part of the country's rich cultural heritage, and their playful spirit and love of mischief continue to delight children and adults alike. The same goes for Grýla and the Yule Cat, that have managed to improve their reputation a bit. But just in case, we strongly advise all children that visit Iceland during the holidays to behave ;)