“Look what I got from the Yule Lad,” my two-and-a-half year-old nephew gleamed as he held up a blue toy Mini. Matchbox cars are his favorite toys.
This is the first year he gets presents from the jólasveinar, the 13 ogre brothers who come to town the 13 nights preceding Christmas Eve, leaving presents behind in children’s shoes.
He loves the little presents but hasn’t quite understood the concept of the Yule Lads—checking his shoe in the windowsill many times a day—and wasn’t particularly impressed when a bearded red-clad man showed up at his kindergarten.
My friend’s five-year-old son is terrified at the prospect of strange men entering his room at night and so he moves out in the nights leading up to Christmas.
A colleague of mine explained that he and his wife have resorted to placing their three young children’s shoes in the windowsill in the kitchen so that they can sleep undisturbed.
Meanwhile, another friend of mine is not sleeping soundly because her three-and-a-half year-old daughter wakes up as early as 5 am to check her shoe.
The idea is to get children to behave in December because if they don’t, they’ll end up with a potato in their shoe. That doesn’t always work out, though.
An acquaintance recounted the following story of her five-year-old son on Facebook:
Her husband asks their son what he found in his shoe. The kid picks up the potato and says: “Mmmm, a mandarin.” His dad replies: “It doesn’t look like a mandarin to me,” to which the kid promptly responds: “Apple!”
A headshake results in a suggestion of some sort of toy. “It’s not a toy,” his dad reasons. “Come on, you know what it is.” The boy won’t give in: “A car?”
“No!” As the dad gets annoyed, the kid keeps listing things he’d rather have: “An onion…” The dad gives up, saying straight out: “It’s a potato,” resulting in a wounded look from his son who had tried as hard as he could to avoid the truth.
However, as a band-aid on his wounded pride, the boy asked to have the potato boiled for breakfast and went full and happy to the kindergarten.
The Yule Lads are an endless source of stories and inspirations.
In downtown Reykjavík, pedestrians can admire the projections of the Yule Lads and other <i>jólavættir<p> (‘Yuletide Spirits’) on the walls of buildings.
The latest addition is the mythical whale Rauðhöfði down at the marina, which until now has not had a connection to the holiday season as far as I’m aware, but its presence in the charming harbor area is welcome all the same.
At that, I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Just in case you’re celebrating in Iceland, watch out for your candles in the night before Christmas Eve, which is when the last of the Yule Lads, Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar) makes his moves.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – email@example.com
If you’re interested in reading more about the Yule Lads, here are links to other columns on this and related topics: