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The Icelandic Yule Lads

The Icelandic Santa Claus(es) Yes in Plural!

|November 20, 2023
Anthropologist, social media guru, Icelandic nature and food enthusiast.

On the morning of December 12th, Icelandic children will wake up with a smile on their faces and butterflies in their bellies. The reason? Yule Lads, or as we like to call them in Icelandic, Jólasveinar! And not only are there 13 of them, but there is also Grýla (their mum), Leppalúði (their dad), and the Christmas cat!


(Good to Know: Jólasveinar, Santa Clauses, and Yule Lads are three expressions for the same thing!)

The eve before December 12th, everyone who believes in the Yule Lads will put a shoe on the window sill and keep it there for 13 days. This particular number has to do with the number of Icelandic Jólasveinar (or Icelandic Santa Clauses if you prefer).

Every night until Christmas, a new Yule Lad will visit the window and place a small gift in the shoe. This is not at all as creepy as it sounds! For many, the Yule Lads are the best part of the days leading up to Christmas Day.

You might be thinking, “What? 13 Yule Lads? That’s way too many!” But wait–even that’s not all! The family actually consists of the 13 Yule Lads (who are all brothers), their mom, Grýla, their dad, Leppalúði, and then there is the cat.

And it’s no extraordinary cat… Continue to read and find out more about these fascinating characters!

Grýla, The Mother of the Yule Lads

The Mom of the Yule Lads. A scary troll mom, you know the type. She has the uncanny ability to detect when children are not behaving all year round! Yikes!

During Christmas, she leaves her home in the mountains to hunt the naughty children and makes stew out of them. According to legend, there’s never a food shortage for this feisty character.

Icelandic Yule Lads Home

Yule Lads cave where 13 brothers and mom - Grýla with dad - Leppalúði lives | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

Leppalúði, the Lazy Husband

Grýla’s husband and father to the Yule Lads are known for not doing much around the house (do you know someone like that?). But not much else is known about this big-nosed man. He’s never been seen kidnapping or cooking children, but he does eat what Grýla cooks, so he too sounds like a fishy character, if you ask me.

The Christmas Cat

The Christmas cat, also known as Jólakötturinn, is a vicious black hairy animal that hunts children who don’t receive something new to wear for Christmas – and then EATS them! It comes as no surprise that he’s a house pet of Grýla and her husband.   

The installation of the Christmas Cat made out of thousands of lights stands in Reykjavik during the Christmas season each year. Make sure to visit it if you happen to be there for Christmas!

The Christmas Yule Cat in Reykjavík Downtown, Iceland

Who are the 13 Yule Lads, and when do they appear?

It’s important to keep in mind that the Yule Lads have not always been considered nice lads, if somewhat rough around the edges. They used to go around stealing and breaking into people’s houses!

Many believe the legends started around homeless, poor, and hungry men who were just trying to survive in the cold winter here in Iceland.

Slowly, through the centuries, much about them, except their names, have changed. Here are the 13 Yule Lads:

December 12. Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote-Clod)

Stekkjastaur Yule Lad in Iceland

Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote-Clod) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The first Yule Lad comes on the night before the 12th of December. He is said to suck milk from sheep and was known for having two wooden feet, peg-legged. Guard your sheepies where they lay!

December 13. Giljagaur (Gully Gawk)

Giljagaur Yule Lad in Iceland

Giljagaur (Gully Gawk) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The second Yule Lad comes on the night before the 13th of December. He was known to hide in barns and steal the froth of the milk buckets. Goodbye, good froth…

December 14. Stúfur (Stubby)

Stufur Yule Lad in Iceland

Stúfur (Stubby) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The third one of the Yule lads comes on the night before the 14th of December. He was known for being unusually short and stealing pans to eat the crust left in them. Well, who can blame him? I’ve known a scrumptious crust or two.

December 15. Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker)

Thorus Leikir Yule Lad in Iceland

Þvörusleikir (Spoon Licker) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The fourth of the Yule Lads comes the night before the 15th of December. 

He is known for being tall and thin and for stealing þvörur (long wooden spoons) to lick them. Gross!

December 16. Pottaskefill (Pot-Licker)

Pottaskefill Yule Lad in Iceland

Pottaskefill (Pot Licker) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The fifth of the Yule Lads comes the night before the 16th of December. 

He is known to steal leftovers from pots. So guard your codfish soup!

December 17. Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker)

Askasleikir Yule Lad in Iceland

Askasleikir (Bowl Licker) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The sixth of the Yule Lads comes on the eve of the 17th of December.

He was known to hide under beds when people would place their “askur,” a plate used for all meals. He then stole the askur and ate from it.

I’m beginning to sense a theme here. It’s all about stealing with these 13…

December 18. Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer)

Hurdaskellir Yule Lad in Iceland

Hurðaskellir (Door Slammer) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The seventh of the Yule Lads comes the night before the 18th of December.

The loudest one, he was known to slam doors, especially during nighttime. So I can’t blame my neighbors on that one.

December 19. Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler)

Skyrjarmur Yule Lad in Iceland

Skyrgámur (Skyr Gobbler) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The eighth of the Yule Lads comes the night before the 19th of December.

Skyr Gobbler was known for being obsessed with the Icelandic yogurt skyr. I totally feel him — skyr is crazy DELICIOUS. (Wait, am I Skyrgamur?)

December 20. Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper)

Bjugnakraekir Yule Lad in Iceland

Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The ninth of the Yule Lads comes on the eve of the 20th of December.

Known to hide in the rafters and steal sausages that were being smoked.

Now I’m just getting hungry…

December 21. Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper)

 Gluggagaegir Yule Lad in Iceland

Gluggagægir (Window Peeper) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The tenth of the Yule Lads comes on the night before the 21st of December.

Probably the creepiest one, he would peek inside people’s windows to see if there was anything to steal.

So, he is not much of a niche-stealer like his brothers, more broad-minded.

December 22. Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer)

Gattathefur Yule Lad in Iceland

Gáttaþefur (Doorway Sniffer) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The eleventh of the Yule Lads comes on the night before the 22nd of December.

Known to have an extremely long, large nose and an amazing sense of smell, he usually uses to seek out yummy Laufabrauð.

More about Laufabrauð here.

December 23. Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook)

Ketkrokur Yule Lad in Iceland

Ketkrókur (Meat Hook) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The twelfth of the Yule Lads comes on the night before the 23rd of December.

He’s the one who uses a hook to steal meat.

December 24. Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer)

Kertasnikir Yule Lad in Iceland

Kertasníkir (Candle Stealer) Yule Lad | Photo by Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

The thirteenth of the Yule Lads comes on the night before the 24th of December.

The one who followed children to steal their candles (which used to be edible, made from fat).

I definitely don’t identify with this guy – fat candles? I’ll stick to my beeswax, thank you very much.

 

Photo Credit: Visit Mývatn via Jólasveinarnir í Dimmuborgum

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