The Yule Lads

17th December 2023. Reading Time: 3 minutes General, Famous Paranormal Cases. 510 page views. 0 comments.

In 1746, parents were officially banned from scaring their kids with tales of the Yule Lads. In the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, leave an empty shoe on your windowsill where the lads will leave you a present .... if you have been good. It is rotten potatoes for those on the naughty list!

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.

The 13 Yule Lads

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.

  • Stekkjastaur:  Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer's sheep sheds

  • Giljaguar:  Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk

  • Stúfur:  Stubby: He's short and steals food from frying pans

  • Þvörusleikir:  Spoon Licker: He licks spoons

  • Pottaskefill:  Pot Scraper, aka Pot Licker: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean 

  • Askasleikir:  Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed (back in the old days, Icelanders used to sometimes store bowls of food there—convenient for midnight snacking?)

  • Hurðaskellir:  Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake 

  • Skyrgámu:  Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)

  • Bjúgnakrækir:  Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages 

  • Gluggagægir:  Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside

  • Gáttaþefur:  Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods

  • Ketkrókur:  Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb 

  • Kertasníkir:  Candle Stealer: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland


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.


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