The belief in
the Yule Lads is ancient in Iceland. They are trolls who originally were
known for making mischief and stealing things around Xmas-time. This mischievous
nature is reflected in their names: Meat Snatcher (Kjötkrókur),
Skyr Gobbler (Skyrgámur), Candle Beggar (Kertasníkir),
Sheep-fold Sneaker (Stekkjarstaur), Ladle Licker (Ţvörusleikir),
Pot Scraper (Pottaskefill), Bowl Licker (Askasleikir), Door
Slammer (Hurđaskellir), Sausage Snatcher (Bjúgnakrćkir),
Window Peeper (Gluggagćgir), Doorway Sniffer (Gáttaţefur).
Their brothers Stumpy (Stúfur) and Gully Gawk (Giljagaur)
weren't much better.
their parents, Ragamuffin and Hag, were useful for scaring children into
behaving themselves. "If you're not good, the Hag will come and eat
you!". The family pet, the Yuletide cat, was said to come and take
all those who didn't get new clothes at Christmas. New clothes, shoes for
example, were a reward for having been obedient and hard-working
throughout the year, and the lazy didn't get any, and so the cat took
beginning of the 20th century, the modern Santa Claus appeared on the
scene, and Icelanders became aware of the Scandinavian Julenisser, gnome-like
creatures who were kind to children. The Yule lads began to develop into a
mixture of Julenisser, Yule lads and Santa Claus. The modern Yule
lads are funny old men with child-like minds and behavior. They have
retained some of their mischievous nature, although these days they have
learned that they will usually get what they want if they only ask for it.
from mischievous trolls to kind gift-givers worked quite well. All a child
had to do was to put a shoe on the windowsill, and in the morning there
would be a gift in the shoe. If the child had been bad, there might be a
raw potato instead. The origin of this tradition probably lies in the
foreign custom of hanging up stockings on Christmas Eve, to be filled by
Santa during the night.
wasn't all. The Yule Lads had always dressed in rags before, but to
reflect their new image, they adopted the dress of the American Santa
Claus: red pants, red tunic, black boots and the classic red hat with
white fur trimming. If you ever visit Iceland in December, chances are you
will see these lads scampering about, entertaining children in shopping
malls and generally having fun.
In the old
days, the Lads would arrive one a day, for 13 days before Yule, and then
leave one a day for 13 days after Yule. This is why Icelandic children get
shoe gifts for 13 days before Christmas.