The Yule Lads, the Icelandic version of Santa Claus, one of the differences being that there are 13 of them, will come down from the mountains one by one starting today to treat well-behaved children to presents.
The Yule Lad brothers, offspring of the trolls Grýla and Leppalúði, are called Sheep-Cote Clod (a.k.a. Stiff-Legs), Gully Gawk, Stubby (a.k.a. Shorty), Spoon Licker (a.k.a. Ladle Licker), Pot Scraper, Bowl Licker, Door Slammer, Skyr Gobbler, Sausage Swiper (a.k.a. Sausage Snatcher), Window Peeper, Door Sniffer, Meat Hook and Candle Beggar. The last comes to town on Christmas Eve.
Nowadays, the Yule Lads carry a bag full of little presents with them to leave behind in children’s shoes, which every child in Iceland has excitedly placed his or her windowsill. But if the young ones have misbehaved they only get an old potato in their shoe.
In the olden days, however, the Yule Lads only came down from the mountains to steal food and scare people out of their wits. Their appearance and behavior has improved a lot since then, but they still have a taste for traditional Icelandic food, like skyr (a yogurt-like dairy product) and hangikjöt (smoked lamb) and can’t help but tease humans now and then.
Iceland Review Online will publish an English translation by Hallberg Hallmundsson of the original Yule Lads Ballad Jólasveinarnir by Jóhannes úr Kötlum (1899-1972), courtesy of Álfasaga ehf. Illustrations by Magnús Valur Pálsson. Copyright Heimur Ltd.
Here is the first ballad:
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.
He wished to suck the ewes,
but it was no accident
he couldn’t; he had stiff knees
- not too convenient.
Click here to learn more about the Yule Lads, here to read about a new app which reminds users which Yule Lad is scheduled to visit that day and here for information on a hunt for the Icelandic Christmas Creatures, organized by the Reykjavík Art Museum-Hafnarhús.