Iceland does not have a Santa Clause. Iceland has 13 Santa Clauses. The Yule Lads start to come into town on the 12th of December, with the last Yule Lad arriving on the 24th of December, Christmas Eve. If you now think, great! 13 Santa Clauses means 13 presents, think again. Then these little mischievous creatures have nothing good in mind.
Why does Iceland have 13 Santa Clauses?
All 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses are sons of Grýla and Leppalúði. Grýla is the troll mother and a very unfriendly creature you don’t want to mess with. She is always hungry and is said to eat naughty children. There is not much about Leppalúði other then being the lazy husband of Grýla. He is said to be her third husband since she ate her second one. You can find horrible portraits of Grýla, the evil domineering ogre.
The number of Yule Lads differ over the years and in some legends, there are more than 50 of them. Today we have 13 Santa Clauses. In the old days, parents used them to scare children into good behavior which was prohibited in 1746.
Over the years, the Yule Lads became friendlier, and nowadays even bring gifts into children’s shoes. Children put their shoes into the open window, and the next morning they will find a small gift. But only if they have been good. If not, they will find a rotten potato.
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12th of December: Sheep-Cote-Clod – Stekkjastaur (The First of the Yule Lads)
Widely known amongst Icelanders as a clumsy fellow with wooden legs that drinks milk straight from the sheeps’ teat. Sheep-Cote-Clod loves fresh milk and will sneak into the sheepfold after dark to get himself the delicious treat. But when he does not watch his back, this Yule Lad will be hit by the ram, who doesn’t like intruders.
13th of December: Gully Gawk – Giljagaur
Here we have another Milk-Lover. But Gully Gawk gets his name from the fact that he often hides in gullies until the air is clear and he can sneak into the cowshed. There he will look for buckets with fresh milk to satisfy his hunger. Like his brother, this Yule Lad also likes to drink straight from the tap. But often the cow will get annoyed and give him a kick.
14th December: Shorty – Stúfur
The shortest of the Yule Lad boys uses his size to hide in dark corners to wait until everyone left the kitchen, so he can steal juicy meat from the pan. His love for leftovers from unwashed pans is legendary.
15th of December: Spoon Licker – Þvörusleikir
Another foodie that loves leftovers. So much that he searches for wooden spoons in the kitchen to lick food from them. But in his haste, he often burns his tongue.
16th of December: Pot Scraper – Pottasleikir
Here we have another Yule Lads that loves food. Seems like Grýla does not take good care of her sons. Pot Scraper loves burnt-on food that he scraped it off the pots. Sometimes he is so excited that he scrapes a hole right through the pot.
17th of December: Bowl Licker – Askasleikir
Bow Licker arrives late in the evening when all people went to bed already. In the old days, each family member had a bowl with food under their bed. He would then sneak into the bedroom to lick the bowls empty.
18th of December: Door Slammer – Hurðaskellir
Other than his brothers, this Yule Lad does not look for leftover food. Instead, he likes to wake up families just after they went to sleep by slamming the doors in the house. He takes pleasure in disturbing people by making noise. Almost sounds like our neighbors, only that they make noise the whole year-round.
19th of December: Skyr Gobbler – Skyrgámur
We are back to one of the hungry Yule Lads. The one that seeks one of the most iconic Icelandic dairy products: Skyr! Skyr is high in protein and low in fat, correctly categorized as cheese but eaten like yogurt. Back in the day, it was stored on wooden barrels. That’s where Skyr Gobbler sits, greedily eating the whole barrel, until his beard is spotted with the white stuff.
20th of December: Sausage Swiper – Bjúgnakrækir
Hungry for delicious sausages hanging on a beam over the fireplace, Sausage Swiper snaps the string of sausages and running away with the string hanging over his shoulders. But on the way to the next farm, he already had eaten them all and needs to look for more.
21st of December: Window Peeper – Gluggagægir
Presumably not too weird in the old days, Window Peeper is a curious fellow. Lying on the window of farms, he likes to make funny faces at people inside, and make kids laugh. Nowadays it sounds quite creepy to have someone that spies through windows. It is also said that he likes to look for the presents that kids receive on Christmas to later sneak inside and steal his favorite one.
22nd of December: Door Sniffer – Gáttaþefur
With his big nose, Door Sniffer can smell good food from all the way up the mountain. His nose leads him to the most delicious roast. He stops at the door where he inhales the irresistible smell. His nose will lead him right to his next meal.
23rd of December: Meat Hook – Ketkrókur
This Yule Lad will sit on the roof by the chimney, like Santa Clause. But not to bring presents. Meat Hook is on the lookout for some delicious roast. He will then send his hook down, and the only thing you will see is your Christmas dinner flying away.
24th of December: Candle Beggar – Kertasníkir (The Last of the Yule Lads)
Since there is no light up in the mountains, Candle Beggar seeks the calming light of candles. Therefore sneaks into farmhouses to look for them. Hiding in the corner he will wait for the children to carry the candles and place them on the table to snatch one or two. Some children will see the Yule Lad and slip him a candle.
Finally, all Yule Lads have arrived by December 24th. Starting with the 25th, the first Yule Lad (Sheep-Cote-Clod) will leave to go back to the mountains after spending 13 days in town. After that, one by one, in order of their arrival will go back to the mountains. The last Yule Lad will leave on Þrettándinn – The 13th Day after Christmas on the 6th of January.
Book: Íslensku Jólasveinarnir by www.snerra.is
Online: Icelandic National Museum
Illustrations made with Canva