Icelandic Santa Clauses - The Icelandic Yule Lads
Here in Iceland we don’t have one Santa Claus, instead we have 13 Yule Lads or like we call them in Icelandic - Jólasveinar
The Icelandic Yule Lads - Jólasveinar
Their name reflects their special talent, looks, or appetite. They only come out in December and sneak a little present in the children’s shoes in the window of their bedroom. But they only give presents to the well-behaved children and a potato for those who do not behave well. They live in the mountains with their mother, Grýla, their father, Leppalúði, and the Christmas Cat. Grýla is very ugly and mean. In the old days, she took the children who did not behave well, put them in her bag and travelled with them to the mountains, and cooked them in her pot. Leppalúði is a very lazy man and does not seem to do much at all. In the old days, the Christmas Cat ate the children who did not get new clothes for Christmas.
Children put their shoes in the window, hoping for a little present, on the night of the 12th of December, when the first Yule Lad comes the next morning, and the last one arrives on the morning of Christmas Eve.
The first Yule Lad, Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote-Clod) His body is very stiff and he has a wooden leg.
The second Yule Lad, Giljagaur (Gully Gawk) loves milk and in the old days, he used to sneak into barns and drink the milk from the cow straight from their teat.
Stúfur (Stubby) is the third Yule Lad. He is really small, quick, and likes to steel pans. He also likes to scrape off food that stuck to pans.
The fourth Yule Lad, Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker) is thin, and wooden spatulas with any rest of food on it, are his favourite.
Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper) is the fifth Yule Lad. He likes to scrape food and especially porridge from the bottom of the pots.
The sixth Yule Lad, Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker) likes to lick bowls that were left for dogs and cats to lick.
The seventh Yule Lad is Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer). His favourite thing to do is listen to doors squeak and of course slam them, especially when the people are sleeping.
Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler) is the eighth Yule Lad. He likes to eat Skyr until he is so full that he can’t move anymore. Commonly, Icelandic kids leave some skyr for Skyrgámur on their windshield before going to bed.
The ninth Yule Lad, Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper) steals sausages from people and eats them.
Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper) is the tenth Yule Lad. He peeks through windows to see all the beautiful things people have in their homes.
Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer) is the eleventh Yule Lad. He has a huge and sensitive nose. He is often seen running towards a good smell.
The twelfth Yule Lad is Ketkrókur (Meat-Hooker). He likes meat and takes and eats any meat he may come across.
The thirteenth and the last Yule Lad is Kertasníkir (Candle-Beggar). He is known to be the children’s favourite Yule Lad because he is usually the most generous. He likes candles and often steals them from people. But because he is in favour of most children, they often leave a candle in their shoe for him to take.
In the olden times, he often ate the candles as well. However, at that time, the candles were made out of animal fat, so these modern-day candles are not as tasty to him anymore.
Must do when visiting Iceland over Christmas
When visiting Iceland over the holidays there are a few things you must try!
First of all, you must try the smoked lamb, otherwise known as "Hangikjöt". Hangikjöt is an Icelandic Christmas tradition and is both served hot and cold. Traditionally it will be served with potatoes, green beans, and white sauce. A few restaurants have this on their menu over the holidays but do not worry if you can not find one, you can also find smoked lamb slices in the local supermarket in small packaging that the locals use on bread.
The origin of the smoked lamb was that in the olden times, people would hang the meat and smoke it to preserve it longer. That is why the direct translation of Hangikjöt is "Hanged meat".
Another must-try over the holidays is the traditional Christmas soda known as Malt og Appelsín or sometimes Jólaöl (Christmas ale). It is non-alcoholic and a mix of 2 types of sodas are called Malt and the other Appelsín. Malt is a soda that tasted very similar to malt beer, except sweeter and Appelsín is an orange soda. The mix of the two together may not sound amazing, but we highly recommend trying it as it is surprisingly good!
Another must when visiting Iceland over Christmas is, having hot cocoa with whipped cream (If your stomach allows it). What is better after a long day of sightseeing, than sitting down with a warm cup of cocoa to warm up?
Those who are more advanced in visiting Iceland and have maybe seen and done it "all", might take part in the Icelandic tradition and try the fermented skate. The dish has a very pungent smell which will stick to your clothes for days afterwards and the smell alone might just clear out any cold you might have. However, it does not taste quite as bad as it smells. This is a beloved tradition by many Icelanders, but you will meet people who love it and also just as many that don't.
Updated on December 2nd 2021