Yule Lads

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The Yuletide-lads, Yule Lads, or Yulemen (Icelandic: jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar), are figures from Icelandic folklore who in modern times have become the Icelandic version of Santa Claus (Father Christmas). Their number has varied over time, but currently there are considered to be thirteen.[1] They put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children on window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas. Every night, one Yuletide lad visits each child, leaving gifts or rotting potatoes,[2] depending on the child’s behaviour throughout the year.

History and origins[edit]

The Yuletide-lads originate from Icelandic folklore.[3] Early on their number and depictions varied greatly depending on location, with each individual Lad ranging from a mere prankster[4] to a homicidal monster who eats children.[5]

In 1932, the poem "Jólasveinarnir" was published as a part of the popular poetry book Jólin Koma ("Christmas Is Coming") by Icelandic poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum. The poem reintroduced Icelandic society to Icelandic Yuletide folklore and established what is now considered the canonical thirteen Yuletide-lads, their personalities and connection to other folkloric characters.[6][clarification needed]

Modern depictions[edit]

Yule Lads at a children's event in Akureyri

The Yuletide-lads are portrayed as being mischievous, or even criminal, pranksters who would steal from, or otherwise harass the population,[7] and all have descriptive names that convey their modus operandi.

In modern times the Yuletide-lads have been depicted as also taking on a more benevolent role[8] comparable to Santa Claus and other related figures. They are generally depicted as wearing late medieval style Icelandic clothing[9], but are sometimes shown wearing the costume traditionally worn by Santa Claus (see image), especially at at children's events.

The Yuletide-lads are said to be the sons of the mountain-dwelling trolls Grýla and her husband, Leppalúði. Grýla is big and scary, with an appetite for the flesh of mischievous children, who she is sometimes depicted to put in a large pot and make into stew.[10] Grýla is said to trek from the mountains to scare Icelandic children who misbehaved before Christmas.[11][12] Her husband is smaller and weaker, and mostly stays at home in his cave, lazy and mindless. They are depicted with the Yule Cat, a beast that, according to folklore, eats children who do not receive new clothes for Christmas.[11]

List of Yuletide-lads[edit]

The Yuletide-lads are said to "come to town" during the last 13 nights before Christmas. Below are the 'official' thirteen Yuletide-lads in the order they arrive (and depart).

Names in English are based on Hallberg Hallmundsson's translation of the poem.[13]

Icelandic name English translation Description Arrival Departure
Stekkjarstaur Sheep-Cote Clod Harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs. 12 December 25 December
Giljagaur Gully Gawk Hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. 13 December 26 December
Stúfur Stubby Abnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them. 14 December 27 December
Þvörusleikir Spoon-Licker Steals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle – I. þvara) to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition. 15 December 28 December
Pottaskefill Pot-Scraper Steals leftovers from pots. 16 December 29 December
Askasleikir Bowl-Licker Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their "askur" (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes), which he then steals. 17 December 30 December
Hurðaskellir Door-Slammer Likes to slam doors, especially during the night. 18 December 31 December
Skyrgámur Skyr-Gobbler A Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr. 19 December 1 January
Bjúgnakrækir Sausage-Swiper Would hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked. 20 December 2 January
Gluggagægir Window-Peeper A snoop who would look through windows in search of things to steal. 21 December 3 January
Gáttaþefur Doorway-Sniffer Has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð. 22 December 4 January
Ketkrókur Meat-Hook Uses a hook to steal meat. 23 December 5 January
Kertasníkir Candle-Stealer Follows children in order to steal their candles (which in those days were made of tallow and thus edible). 24 December 6 January

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Celebrating Christmas with 13 trolls Retrieved 1 June 2013
  2. ^ Bad Santas Retrieved 1 June 2013
  3. ^ Eve Online Introduces the “Yule Lads” Retrieved 1 June 2013
  4. ^ The Yule Lads Retrieved 1 June 2013
  5. ^ Forgotten Yule Lads and Lasses Retrieved 1 June 2013
  6. ^ "Best places to spend Christmas". Retrieved 1 June 2013
  7. ^ "The Yule Lads: Friends or Foes?" Retrieved 1 June 2013
  8. ^ Top 10 places to spend your 2010 Christmas Retrieved 1 June 2013
  9. ^ Yule lads: Peoria woman’s family surprises her with Icelandic folklore Retrieved 1 June 2013
  10. ^ 13 Yule Lads of Iceland
  11. ^ a b "Jólakötturinn, Grýla og Leppalúði". jolamjolk.is (in Icelandic). Iceland: Mjólkursamsalan (MS). Archived from the original on 2 December 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2017. 
  12. ^ "Bogeymen: Five scary visitors in the night". BBC News. Retrieved 1 June 2013
  13. ^ "Hallberg Hallmundson's translation of 'Jólasveinarnir' by Jóhannes úr Kötlum". Jóhannes úr Kötlum, skáld þjóðarinnar. Archived from the original on 22 December 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2008. 

External links[edit]