Christmas is a time when stories are shared between young and old. Memories, fun traditions and even cautionary tales of Christmas monsters coming for naughty kids, or even just the dreaded lump of coal. Icelandic folklore is no different with different traditions and tales. One such tradition passed down through the generations is leaving an empty shoe on a window sill in the 13 nights preceding Christmas. It is said the Yule Lads will come down and bestow sweets and gifts on those who have been good, and rotten potatoes and tricks on those who have been naughty the day before.
Once portrayed as evil trolls Jólasveinar which is Yule Lads in Icelandic, are all versions of Santa Claus who come down each night for 13 nights leading up to Christmas, leaving gifts for good children, and rotten potatoes for those on the naughty list. The lads are the sons of Grýla the ogre who lives in the mountains with a Christmas Cat in the caves of Dimmuborgir. The lads are to represent dark spirits of nature taking over as winter forces everyone indoors. Their mother Grýla is not for the faint-hearted as she is said to come down on Christmas Eve kidnapping naughty children in her empty sack and returning to her cave to make soup out of them. The Christmas Cat (who is said to be a giant), prowls the streets on Christmas Eve eating anyone who isn't wearing at least one piece of new clothing. If these stories sound a little full-on for Christmas, this is the tamer version. In 1746, parents were officially banned in Iceland from telling scary tales to terrify their children. The lads are portrayed these days as more mischievous rather than terrifying.
Image Source: Promote Iceland
The lads' names as they are known today come from the 1932 Yule Lad Poem written by Jóhannes úr Kötlum. A different Yule Lad arrives on a particular date each year, starting with Stekkjastaur, the “Sheep Cote Clod” and ending with Kertasníkir, the “Candle Stealer”.
All of the Yule Lads stay in the towns for 13 days, with Kertasníkir being the last to return to the mountains on January 6th.
Like many traditions (like Krampus), these are embraced by locals with many events planned to celebrate the Yule Lads and even treks and events around the caves where they are said to reside.
So before you go to sleep tonight, perhaps leave a shoe on your windowsill and hope you don't wake to a rotten potato by morning.
Cover Image Source: https://www.jswatch.com/workshop/have-you-heard-about-the-icelandic-yule-lads-/14/12/2020
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