Christmas in Iceland 2000 - Main Page

Yuletide Lads
at the National Museum of Iceland

The Icelandic jólasveinar (Yuletide Lads) have absolutely nothing to do with the international red-clothed Santa Claus, who is a version of St. Nicholas. The Yuletide Lads are descended from trolls, and orginally they were bogeymen who were used to scare children. During this century they have mellowed, and they sometimes wear their best, red, suits. But they still tend to pilfer and play tricks.

The number of Yuletide Lads varied in olden times from one region of Iceland to another. The number 13 is first seen in a poem on Grýla (the Lads' mother) in the 18th century, and their names were published by Jón Árnason in his folklore collection in 1862. About 60 different names of Yuletide Lads are known.
They visit the National Museum on each of the 13 days before Christmas. They usually wear their old Icelandic costumes, and try to pilfer the goodies each likes best.

Grýla and Leppalúði are the parents of the Yuletide Lads, and their pet is the Christmas Cat; children feared all these characters in times past.

On December 12 the Yuletide Lads begin to come to town. The first is Stekkjarstaur (Sheepfold Stick), who would try to drink the milk from the farmers' ewes.

On December 13 Giljagaur (Gully Oaf) arrives. Before the days of milking machines, he would sneak into the cowshed and skim the froth off the pails of milk.

The Lad who arrives on December 14 is Stúfur (Shorty), who, as his name implies, is on the small side. He was also known as Pönnuskefill (pan-scraper), as he scraped scraps of food of the pans.

On December 15, Þvörusleikir (Spoon-licker) comes down from the mountains. He would steal the wooden spoon that had been used for stirring. When he visits the National Museum, he goes looking for wooden spoons.

On December 16, Pottasleikir (Pot-licker) comes visiting. He tried to snatch pots that had not been washed, and lick the scraps from them.

Askasleikir (Bowl-licker) arrives on December 17. He hid under beds, and if someone put his wooden food-bowl in the floor, he grabbed it and licked it clean.

Hurðaskellir (Door-slammer) comes on December 18. He is an awfully noisy fellow, who is always slamming doors and keeping people awake.
Door Slammer.

The Lad who is expected on December 19 is called Skyrgámur (Curd Glutton), because he loves skyr (milk curd) so much that he sneaks into the pantry and gobbles up all the skyr from the tub there.
Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Pilferer) comes on December 20. He loves sausages of all kinds, and steals them whenever he can.

On December 21, Gluggagægir (Peeper) arrives. He is not as greedy as some of his brothers, but awfully nosy, peeping through windows and even stealing toys he likes the look of.

On December 22 Gáttaþefur (Sniffer) comes calling. He has a big nose, and he loves the smell of cakes being baked for Christmas. He often tries to snatch a cake or two for himself. December 22 was sometimes called hlakkandi (looking forward), because the children had started looking forward to Christmas.

Meat Hook.
On 23 December, St. Þorlákur's Day, Ketkrókur (Meat Hook) arrives. He adores all meat. In olden days he would lower a hook down the kitchen chimney and pull up a leg of lamb hanging from a rafter, or a bit of smoked lamb from a pan, as smoked lamb was traditionally cooked on St. Þorlákur's Day.
Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar) comes on Christmas Eve, December 24. In olden times, candle light was the brightest light available. Candles were so rare and precious that it was a treat for children to be given a candle at Christmas. And poor Candle Beggar wanted one too.

The Nationan Museum of Iceland has not yet their Christmas Lads pages in English but you can look at the drawings of the new stylish clothes for the lads and the photographs.
Pictures of the Christmas lads by Halldor Petursson

Pictures of the Christmas lads by Olafur Petursson
Pictures II of the Christmas lads by Olafur Petursson(older)

Reproduced with permission from the National Museum of Iceland.
Pictures of Christmas Lads by Ivar Brynjolfsson
Picture of Gryla by Salvor Gissurardottir

The Christmas Lads and Gryla got new dresses in 1999.
The pictures on this page of the Christmas Lads are from 1991.

Christmas in Iceland 2000 - Main Page