Iceland’s Yule Lads, a celebration of Icelandic folklore

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Here in North America, children are visited by jolly ole’ Santa Claus, who rewards them for their good behavior by giving them free gifts on Christmas Eve. However Iceland celebrates the winter holidays a little differently. Thirteen nights before Yule (Christmas Eve), the Yule Trolls take turns visiting Icelandic children. They leave behind sweets or rotten vegetables in the child’s shoes, depending on the child’s behavior.

Icelandic children place their shoes on the windowsill to make it easier for the trolls.

These trolls are the sons of the foul child-eating mountain trolls, Grýla and Leppalúði. Unlike Santa Claus, these trolls are not so Jolly and good-spirited. They hide sleeping in their cave for most of the year, but during December they awaken to strike fear into the hearts of misbehaving children. Alongside the trolls is the black tyrannical Yule Cat named Jólakötturinn, who will devour children who are not wearing at least one new piece of clothing on Yule (Christmas Eve). He may also eat the food of those who are lazy and do not work hard enough. My favorite Icelandic star, Björk even wrote a song about this malevolent kitty.

Each mischievous troll has his own distinct personality and habits. The famous poem Jólasveinarnir by Jóhannes úr Kötlum written in 1932, describes the individual trolls very well. Below I will quote from that poem.

The artwork below is from

The first troll is named Stekkjarstaur or “Sheep-Cote Clod.”  This little troll is known for his desire to harass sheep and for his stiff wooden peg legs.

He came stiff as wood,

To pray upon the farmer’s

Sheep as far as he could.

He wished to suck the ewes,

But it was no accident

He couldn’t; he had stiff knees –

Not too convenient.

The second troll is named Giljagaur or “Gully Gawk.” He likes to hide in the gullies waiting until he has the opportunity to steal some cow milk!

Gray his head and mien.

He snuck into the cow barn

From his craggy ravine.

Hiding in the stalls,

He would steal the milk,

While the milkmaid gave the cowherd

A meaningful smile.

The third little troll is named Stúfur or “Stubby.” He is known for being very short and loving to lick the leftovers out of your pans!

A stunted little man,

Who watched for every chance

To whisk off a pan.

And scurrying away with it,

He scraped off the bits

That stuck to the bottom

And brims – his favorites.

The fourth troll is named Þvörusleikir or “Spoon-Licker”

Like spindle he was thin.

He felt himself in clover

When the cook wasn’t in.

Then stepping up, he grappled

The stirring spoon with glee,

Holding it with both hands

For it was slippery.

The fifth troll is named Pottaskefill or “Pot Scraper.” Similar to Stubby, he will eat the leftovers out of pots instead.

Was a funny sort of chap.

When kids were given scrapings,

He’d come to the door and tap.

And they would rush to see

If there really was a guest.

Then he hurried to the pot

And had a scrapingfest.

The sixth troll is named Askasleikir or “Bowl-Licker.” He enjoys hiding under your bed until you put your bowl down. Then he will steal it and lick it!

Was shockingly ill bred.

From underneath the bedsteads

He stuck his ugly head.

And when the bowls were left

To be licked by dog or cat,

He snatched them for himself –

He was sure good at that!

The seventh troll is named Hurðaskellir or “Door Slammer.” He slams your doors throughout the night. What a noisy, annoying fellow.

A sorry, vulgar chap:

When people in the twilight

Would take a little nap,

He was happy as a lark

With the havoc he could wreak,

Slamming doors and hearing

The hinges on them squeak.

The eigth troll is named Skyrgámur or “Skyr -Gobbler.” This little buddy’s favorite food is skyr which is a traditional Icelandic dairy dish, similar to yogurt.

Was an awful stupid bloke.

He lambasted the skyr tub

Till the lid on it broke.

Then he stood there gobbling

– his greed was well known –

Until, about to burst,

He would bleat, howl and groan.

The ninth troll is named Bjúgnakrækir or “Sausage Swiper.” This mischievous little guy hides in the rafters and pilfers pork links while they’re smoking.

He climbed up to the rafters

And raided food from there.

Sitting on a crossbeam

In soot and in smoke,

He fed himself

On sausage fit for gentlefolk.

The tenth troll is named Gluggagægir or “Window Peeper.” This nosy little creature looks through your windows at night with hopes that he will find something worth stealing.

A weird little twit,

Who stepped up to the window

And stole a peek through it.

And whatever was inside

To which his eye was drawn,

He most likely attempted

To take later on.

The eleventh troll is named Gáttaþefur or “Doorway Sniffer.” He has a long nose. He uses his fantastic sense of smell to sniff around, searching for a traditional Icelandic bread called Laufabrauno.

A doltish lad and gross.

He never got a cold,

Yet had a huge, sensitive nose.

He caught the scent of lace

Bread while leagues away still

And ran toward it weightless

As wind over dale and hill.

The twelth troll is named Ketkrókur or “Meat-Hook.” This little thief uses his famous hook to steal your meat!

His talent would display

As soon as he arrived

On Saint Thorlak´s Day.

He snagged himself a morsel

Of meat of any sort,

Although his hook at times

Was a tiny bit short.

Lastly, the thirteenth troll is named Kertasníkir or “Candle Stealer.” He will stalk children so he can steal their candles and then eat them!

´Twas cold, I believe,

If he was not the last

Of the lot on Christmas Eve.

He trailed after the little ones

Who, like happy sprites,

Ran about the farm with

Their fine tallow lights.

Then one by one they trotted off

Into the frost and snow.

On Twelfth Night the last

Of the lads used to go.

Their footprints in the highlands

Are effaced now for long,

The memories have all turned

To image and song.

Stay safe from the Yule Trolls this year, and Gledileg jol, Bestu jolakvedjur med osk um gledi og frid a komandi ari! (It’s an Icelandic holiday greeting which translates to, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

~Written by: Eva

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