In Iceland, you don’t just get a visit from Santa Claus on Christmas. You also get a visit from a total of 13 Yule Lads (Jólasveinar) in the nights leading up to Christmas (Jólin). These mischievous visitors descend from the mountains where they leave small gifts for well-behaved children.
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What are the 13 Yule Lads?
The Yule Lads are troll-being brothers who were originally trouble-makers, causing mischief each night. It seems they may have been influenced by Santa Claus to become giftgivers in more recent times.
From the 12th December, the Yule Lads visit one at a time during the night to homes in Iceland. Good children are left a gift in their shoes which they place on the windowsill. Naughty children get a potato.
Children leave out small gifts and snacks such as leaf bread (laufabrauð), a traditional Icelandic snack made at Christmas.
Each Yule Lad has a distinct personality and is known for his mischievous ways.
What are the Yule Lads names and what are they known for?
Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds.
Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk.
Stubby: He’s short and steals food from frying pans.
Spoon Licker: He licks spoons.
Pot Scraper, aka Pot Licker: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean.
Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed.
Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake.
Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yoghurt.
Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages.
Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside.
Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods.
Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb.
Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland.
Yule Lads Poem “Jólasveinavísur”
You can read all about the Yule Lads names and personalities in the order of the night they visit in the poem “Jólasveinavísur” by Jóhannes frá Kötlum.
1. Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod) – 12th December
The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod.
He came stiff as wood
to pray upon the farmer’s sheep
as far as he could.
2. Giljagaur (Gully Gawk) – 13th December
The second was Gully Gawk,
gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.
3. Stúfur (Stubby) – 14th December
Stubby was the third called,
a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance
to whisk off a pan.
4. Þvörusleikir (Spoon Licker) – 15th December
The fourth was Spoon Licker;
like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover
when the cook wasn’t in.
5. Pottasleikir (Pot Licker) – 16th December
Pot Licker, the fifth one,
was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings,
he´d come to the door and tap.
6. Askasleikir (Bowl Licker) —-17th December
Bowl Licker, the sixth one,
was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads
he stuck his ugly head.
7. Hurðaskellir (Door Slammer) – 18th December
The seventh was Door Slammer,
a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight
would take a little nap.
8. Skyrgámur (Skyr Gobbler) – 19th December
SkyrGobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.
9. Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper) – 20th December
The ninth was Sausage Swiper,
a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters
and raided food from there.
10. Gluggagægir (Window Peeper) – 21st December
The tenth was Window Peeper,
a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window
and stole a peek through it.
11. Gáttaþefur (Door Sniffer) – 22nd December
Eleventh was Door Sniffer,
a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold, yet had
a huge, sensitive nose.
12. Ketrókur (Meat Hook) – 23rd December
Meat Hook, the twelfth one,
his talent would display
as soon as he arrived
on Saint Thorlak’s Day.
13. Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar) — 24th December
The thirteenth was Candle Beggar
– ’twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last
of the lot on Christmas Eve.
The Yule Lads Scary Parents
The parents of the Yule lads are lazy Leppalúði and evil Grýla. The later was an ogress who collects naughty children in her large sack and boils them in her cave so she can eat them.
Scary Christmas Cat
There is also the scary Christmas cat to watch for on Christmas Eve. This big black Christmas cat (Jólakötturinn) is the pet of evil Grýla and will eat anyone not wearing a new piece of clothing on Christmas Eve.
Where to Find The Yule Lads and Christmas Trolls
If you fancy visiting the Yule Lads, their parents, and the Christmas cat in Iceland you can head to the north of the country to Dimmuborgir. It’s a natural stone labyrinth of lava formations, columns and caves.
Dimmuborgir means ‘dark cities’ and is believed to be an area that connects earth with the underworld.
Other places to spot the Yule Lads include the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik, where decorations throughout the city tell the story of these trolls.
If you want to get interactive with Grýla you can sit in her giant cauldron at the Troll Garden in Fossatún.
Have you ever had a visit from the 13 Yule Lads of Iceland?