It’s Jóltime In Iceland – Meet The 13 Icelandic Yule Lads (Santas)

In Iceland, the tradition of celebrating Christmas is quite special. This holiday is celebrated in a unique way by the Icelanders and consists of exceptional characters rooted in the Icelandic folklore. If Santa Claus is most commonly responsible for bearing and giving the gifts on the Christmas Eve pretty much elsewhere in the world, in Iceland things are quite different from this point of view.

The gift bearers for the Christmas holidays in Iceland are the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads (known in Icelandic as Jólasveinar). Who are they, you might ask? Well, they have been, for most of their history at least, not that friendly to humans. Each of these goblins is associated in the Icelandic folklore with a certain mischief.

The 13 Icelandic Yule lads, as depicted on an Icelandic post stamp. Image source:

Why are they called Yule Lads then? Because prior to the arrival of new Christmas concepts on Icelandic soil (including, most notably, the concept of Santa Claus itself), the Icelanders celebrated Yule, a festival dedicated to the winter solstice during the Viking Age.

Nonetheless, in recent times these 13 rather peculiar folk creatures are regarded as the embodiments of Santa Claus during the Christmas season. They are said to travel all around Iceland during December, bringing good gifts or rotten potatoes in the children’s shoes, evidently depending on their behaviour.

But there’s more to the unique Icelandic Christmas tradition than just the Yule lads. It’s equally important to mention the giant black cat who would torment anyone who had not fetched themselves new clothes by Christmas Eve or the mother of the Yule lads herself (Grýla), who is, according to the legend, a terrifying witch.

Additionally the Christmas season in Iceland is represented by the following days:

  • December 23: St. Thorlakur’s Day (Icelandic: Þorláksmessa) – the day of Þorlákur Þórhallsson (Saint Thorlak), bishop of Skálholt, the patron saint of iceland
  • December 24: Christmas Eve (Icelandic: Aðfangadagur)
  • December 25: Christmas Day (Icelandic: Jóladagur)
  • December 26: Boxing Day (Icelandic: Annar Jóladagur)
  • January 1: New Year’s Day (Icelandic: Gamlárskvöld)

The names of the Icelandic Yule lads are the following ones (firstly in Icelandic, then in English):

  • Stekkjarstaur – Gimpy (arrives on December 12; departs on December 25)
  • Giljagaur – Gully Gawk (arrives on December 13; departs on December 26)
  • Stúfur – Stubby (arrives on December 14; departs on December 27)
  • Þvörusleikir – Spoon Licker (arrives on December 15; departs on December 28)
  • Pottasleikir – Pot Licker (arrives on December 16; departs on December 29)
  • Askasleikir – Bowl Licker (arrives on December 17; departs on December 30)
  • Hurðaskellir – Door Slammer (arrives on December 18; departs on December 31)
  • Skyrgámur – Skyr Gobbler (arrives on December 19; departs on January 1)
  • Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Swiper (arrives on December 20; departs on January 2)
  • Gluggagægir – Window Peeper (arrives on December 21; departs on January 3)
  • GáttaÞefur – Doorway Sniffer (arrives on December 22; departs on January 4)
  • Ketkrókur – Meat Stealer (arrives on December 23; departs on January 5)
  • Kertasníkir – Candle Stealer (arrives on December 24; departs on January 6)

Merry Christmas, or as they say it in Icelandic: Gleðileg jól!

Documentation sources and external links:

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