Otherwise known as Iceland’s bizarre mythical gift givers.
Many countries have their own version of Santa Claus. We recently delved into the unusual traditions surrounding Sinterklaas, the gift giver that sails into the Netherlands every year on a steam ship with bumbling helpers in blackface. Even as weird as that tradition may seem to outsiders, Iceland’s might be even stranger.
Around those parts, Santa Claus isn’t a single guy. Instead, he’s represented by 13 magical monsters called the Jólasveinarnir, literally the “Yule Lads.” Much like the dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, each is named for their personality, all of which reflect an ill-mannered quirk they indulge in when not delivering gifts.
Each Yule Lad is said to arrive in Iceland on a different day during the Christmas season, and each then leaves, one by one, from Christmas until Epiphany.
A rundown of those mischievous Yule Lads:
• Sheep-Cote Clod (arrives on Dec. 12, leaves on Dec. 25) tries to steel sheep, but is rarely successful because of his peg-legs.
• Gully Gawk (Dec. 13 to Dec. 26) hides out in ditches, then sneaks onto farms and steals milk.
• Stubby (Dec. 14 to Dec. 27) is a short little guy who steals pie pans and eats any leftover crust.
• Spoon-Licker (Dec. 15 to Dec. 28) steals and licks wooden spoons.
• Pot-Scraper (Dec. 16 to Dec. 29) steals leftovers right out of the pot.
• Bowl-Licker (Dec. 17 to Dec. 30) hides under beds and steals bowls.
• Door-Slammer (Dec. 18 to Dec. 31) slams doors, but only at night.
• Skyr-Gobbler (Dec. 19 to Jan. 1) will eat up all of your skyr, which is a thick, sweetened Icelandic yogurt.
• Sausage-Swiper (Dec. 20 to Jan. 2) hides in the rafters and steal sausages while they’re being smoked.
• Window-Peeper (Dec. 21 to Jan. 3) looks through your windows for things he can steal.
• Doorway-Sniffer (Dec. 22 to Jan. 4) uses his gigantic nose and subsequent excellent smelling power to locate and steal laufabrauo, an Icelandic Christmas bread.
• Meat-Hook (Dec. 23 to Jan. 5) uses his hook to steal meat.
• Candle-Stealer (Dec. 24 to Jan. 6) steals candles from children and eats them (the candles, that is).
And in addition to their signature move, legend says the Yule Lads like to eat children, too, especially naughty ones. Every December, the Yule Lads leave their home in the mountains of northern Iceland in search of kids to eat. Rarely do they find any, so instead they just ransack the homes of Iceland’s naughty children, but leave gifts behind for the well-behaved ones.
If this wasn’t weird enough, the Yule Lads typically travel with a large, monstrous feline called Jólakötturinn, or “the Yule Cat.” It also eats kids, but, according to folklore, only those who don’t receive new clothing for Christmas (which is probably why Icelandic kids traditionally gets gifted clothes…and then don’t complain about it.)