Icelanders are no strangers to the Christmas spirit with extensive celebrations of the holidays. They take Christmas preparations so seriously, in fact, that a number of events must take place in order to fully embrace the Christmas spirit. The tricky part here is that not only for the entire year, but especially for the two weeks preceding Christmas, everyone must be on their best behavior at all times or else they might get in trouble. You might ask why…
While most countries around the world celebrating Christmas have one central Christmas character, normally Santa Claus or Father Christmas, Icelanders, however, have a cast of 13. The 13 Yule Lads are known as Jólasveinar and they are a mischievous bunch! When we say you need to watch out for them, we mean mind your belongings, guard your food and be ready for a prank or two! On the other hand, the Icelanders who are really naughty might just end up in some serious trouble; but that’s a story about the Yule Lad´s Mother, the terrible giantess Grýla, who cooks naughty children for her Christmas dinner.
But back to the Yule Lads—the offspring of Grýla and her good-for-nothing husband, Leppalúði. Along with a few other things, they are the true representation of Christmas anticipation for most Icelanders. First described as scary but captivating characters in legends told to young children, their arrival over the season leading up to Christmas later developed into fun traditions cherished by families during this special holiday time. Starting on December 12, for the next 13 nights, one Yule Lad at a time will come down from their mystical home at Dimmuborgir, to visit all the children (and some adults) to leave them with either a raw potato or a small gift. Knowing their flair for tricks, they would probably prefer to leave a potato for everyone. However, if a child has been well behaved, then the Yule Lad must leave a decent gift. The only rule is that all children must leave their biggest shoe in the window of their bedroom for the Yule Lad to deliver the present.
Apart from delivering gifts, the Jólasveinar are known for their special characters and quirky behviors. One of the first Lads to arrive is called Stúfur, and he loves to steal all kinds of pots and pans only to devour all the leftovers found in them. Skyrgámur, the Skyr Gobbler, sees skyr as his prey, so don’t expect to find any left after he visits. Hurðaskellir, the Door Slammer, is one of the true pranksters in the Yule Lad family as he slams the doors at night to keep everyone awake. These are just a few of the Yule Lads—remember, there are 13 of them!
If that doesn’t get you in the Christmas mood, then there is also a vicious Christmas cat, known as Jólakötturinn, who eats people who haven’t received a new piece of clothing for Christmas. So, you better not forget to upgrade your wardrobe before Christmas, otherwise you might just have to face the consequences. ☺