Dr. Terry Gunnell, head of Folkloristics at the University of Iceland, will give an illustrated presentation in English on Icelandic Christmas traditions at the National Museum in Reykjavík at 1 pm today.
Gunnell will present the beliefs and traditions of Icelandic Christmas in past and present, from pagan gods to the naughty Yuletide Lads who play practical jokes on people.
The Yuletide Lads, or jólasveinar as they are called in Iceland, have absolutely nothing to do with the international red-clothed Santa Claus, who is a version of St. Nicholas.
The Yuletide Lads are descended from trolls, and originally they were bogeymen who were used to scare children. During this century they have mellowed, and today they sometimes dress in red like the conventional Santa. But they still like to pilfer and play tricks.
The number of Yuletide Lads varied in olden times from one region of Iceland to another. The number 13 is first seen in a poem on Grýla (the Lads’ 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.
The Yuletide Lads visit the National Museum every day until Christmas, the first arrived 13 days before Christmas Eve. They wear their old Icelandic costumes and try to pilfer the goodies each of them prefers.
Admission is free.