Find out About Icelandic Christmas Today Skip to content

Find out About Icelandic Christmas Today

Today (Saturday) at 12.00 Dr. Terry Gunnell, professor of Folklore at the University of Iceland, will give an illustrated presentation in English on the beliefs and traditions surrounding Icelandic Christmas, past and present.

Before the lecture at 11.00 one of the Icelandic Yule Lads, Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), along with his mother Grýla, will visit the museum. This is a good opportunity for kids and grown-ups to see one of the Icelandic ‘Santas’ in person. Admission is free of charge. The English Speaking Union of Iceland will offer refreshments after the lecture.

The Icelandic jólasveinar (Yule Lads) have little connection with the international red-clad Father Christmas. The Yule Lads are descended from trolls, and originally they were scary and monstrous creatures who were used to scare children. During the 20th and 21st centuries they have mellowed and they sometimes wear their best red suits—modeled closely on Santa’s own clothes. But they still tend to pilfer and play tricks.

The number of Yule Lads varied over the centuries and from one region of Iceland to another. The modern count of 13 was first seen in a poem on Grýla (the Lads’ troll mother) in the 18th century, and their names were published by Jón Árnason in his folklore collection in 1862. About 60 different names of Yuletide Lads are known from history.

The Yule Lads visit the National Museum on each of the 13 days before Christmas. They usually wear their old-fashioned Icelandic costumes, and try to pilfer the goodies each likes best.

The English-Speaking Union is an international charity founded in 1918 to promote international understanding and friendship through the use of the English language. Its purpose is to create global understanding through English at a time when English is positioned as the increasingly shared language of an interdependent world. ESU Iceland’s mission is to uphold the objectives of the global ESU, specifically by hosting and promoting lectures and seminars in English.

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