The Yule Lads

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For the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas, Icelandic children expect visits from the Yule Lads. One Yule Lad visits each night to leave gifts to the good children and rotten potatoes to the naughty children. Unlike Santa, there is no breaking and entering involved as the gifts are left on the window sill!

An illustration of the Yule Lads by Brian Pilington
An illustration of the Yule Lads by Brian Pilington

Each Yule Lad has their own personality with a descriptive name. Sheep-Cote Clod arrives first to harass sheep (but is . Spoon-Licker is thin from malnutrition because he only licks stolen spoons. Door-Slammer does exactly that, especially at night. Tradition for the Lads has gradually changed over the past century however. (disturbing image below the next paragraph)

The names of all Yule Lads as well as their parents.
The names of all Yule Lads as well as their parents.

The names and modus operandi of each Lad (even the number of Lads) varied depending on who told the tale. When a poem was published in 1932 detailing all their mischief, the canonical story began to coalesce. Their appearance also began to change with the arrival of a more commercialized Christmas tradition: Santa Claus. Today, the 13 Yule Lads are eerily similar to 13 different Santas. This is a radically different legend from history.

Painting of the Yule Lads' mother, Grýla, by artist Þrándur Þórarinsson
Painting of the Yule Lads’ mother, Grýla, by artist Þrándur Þórarinsson

In the original tale, the whole family is often depicted as traveling into town to torment bad children. The Yule Cat would join them and eat children who didn’t receive new clothes before Christmas! Their parents are two trolls that live in the Christmas mountains (Grýla and her husband Leppalúði) who had their own habits of eating children! Like most tales told to children, besides Hansel and Gretel, there’s no longer any child eating involved.

Music: Waltz of the Snowflakes by Tchaikovsky

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