By Lóa Schriefer
Instead of having one Santa Clause, Iceland has 13. For the 13 nights leading up to Christmas Eve you are left with a present in your shoe, the shoe must be in a window, or the Santa Clauses won’t see them. Each night, one of the 13 men will visit your home and leave a gift. All of the Santa Clauses or Yule Lads are brothers, and their mother is named Grýla. Grýla is the villain in the Icelandic Christmas story. Much like how American parents use the idea that Santa will give you coal in your stocking if you are bad, Icelandic parents threaten that a giant troll will eat them if they are bad. The story goes: Grýla stuffs you in a sack and travels to her cave where she puts you in her soup and eats you. That might explain why her sons are so strange.
- Stekkjarstaur – The Sheep Worrier
The first to arrive will be Stekkjarstuar. In olden times, and still today, sheep are a very important aspect of Icelandic culture. Sheep made up a huge portion of an Icelanders’ diet and the wool from sheep make the famous Icelandic sweaters. So, this lad comes in and steals milk (sheep’s milk) before leaving his gift.
- Giljagaur – Gully Gawk
The second to arrive is Giljagaur. This lad travels in the dead of night, through dark ravines and along rivers. He used to visit every farmhouse to drink the cream that forms on the top of the barrels of cows milk before leaving a present, but now-a-days he settles for the normal whole milk or cream kept in modern fridges.
- Stúfur – Stubby
The third to arrive is Stúfur. He is very self conscious about his height, because he is the shortest and it takes him the longest to deliver presents. He has to climb over mountains which is unfortunate because his legs are so stubby. Stúfur does not have a specific thing that he does before leaving your home, he simply goes through and eats your leftovers and any food lying
around. A message to children, please leave a stool for him if your window is high.
- Þvörusleikir – Spoon Licker
The fourth to arrive is Þvörusleikir. His special trait is that after you eat, he will sneak into your kitchen and lick all of your spoons. He eats the food off of them and then returns to his hiding place in your home to wait for another spoon to be used so he can lick it. A trick many icelandic children use is to blame Þvörusleikir for licking the spoons when someone is baking and they want a taste. He has a very long tongue due to centuries of spoon licking so don’t be alarmed.
- Pottasleikir – Pot Licker
The fifth to arrive is Pottasleikir. He will race straight to your kitchen when you are asleep to lick all of your pots and pans. He, much like Þvörusleikir, is looking for the leftovers stuck to the pots and pans before he leaves a present. But this lad will not hesitate to eat anything he finds in a pot or pan even if its full, so if you are preparing a meal for the next day it might be gone in the morning.
- Askasleikir – Bowl licker
The sixth is Askasleikir. I swear this is the last lad to lick stuff in your kitchen! Askasleikir will lick your bowls, he prefers a traditional wooden bowl called an Askur. He hides under your bed until you have finished eating and then sneaks in to lick them clean of course like all the others he will leave you a gift in your shoe as well as clean bowls.
- Hurðaskellir – Door Slammer
The seventh is Hurðaskellir. He is a loud and rambunctious lad who likes to stir up trouble. He will creep into your house silently and then slam and bang on doors as loudly as he can, he is not there to eat but rather to distress you.
- Skyrgámur – Skyr Glutton
The eighth to arrive is Skyrgámur. Skyr is a traditional Icelandic dairy product, it’s not quite yogurt but it is similar. Every Icelandic household has Skyr and have had for centuries. This Lad is pretty lucky because he gets to eat Skyr instead of just scraps, he will eat as much as he possibly can before leaving.
- Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Stealer
The ninth to arrive is Bjúgnakrækir. A Bjúgu is a huge sausage that in olden times was kept in rafters high off the ground out of reach of animals and children. Bjúgnakrækir used to have to scale up the walls to reach them, but now he conveniently opens the fridge and voila!
- Gluggagægir – Window Peeper
The tenth to arrive is Gluggagægir. He creeps around houses, peeping into windows. He looks for little things to steal while he is in the house leaving presents. Gluggagægir is blamed for anything going missing throughout the year, but he himself sees nothing wrong sense he is leaving and gift and taking one.
- Gáttaþefur – Door Sniffer
The eleventh to arrive is Gáttaþefur. He smells the traditional “leaf bread” from miles away and tracks the scent to your door. The tradition of making leaf bread is dwindling but my family still does it every year. Gáttaþefur will steal the leaf bread any chance he gets and then he waits for everyone to go to bed before he leaves presents.
- Ketkrókur – Meat Hook
The twelfth to arrive is Ketkrókur. In the times of smoking meat in ones home, Ketkrókur would climb up your house and reach into your chimney with a hook and grab the hanging meat. If there was food on the fire then he would also grab that but only if it had meat, he ate nothing else. It is traditional to eat smoked lamb for christmas so he always had plenty to eat. Nowadays he simply goes to the fridge but still always carries his hook.
- Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar
The thirteenth to arrive is Kertasníkir. Candles were a common gift in olden times, thus there were plenty around for him. It is also very dark during the winter in Iceland so candles were a necessity during those months. At that time the candles were made from animal fat, so Kertasníkir would eat them, leave a gift, and run back home over the mountains.
There you are, the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads!