December 14 – Arrival of the Yule Lads in Iceland

Posted on December 14, 2013

As Christmas draws near, in Iceland, children begin to leave their shoes in the windows, in hopes that the Yule Lads soon will be there!

This custom is similar to Dutch children leaving their wooden shoes out for presents on the eve of December 6 (St. Nicholas Day).  But the children in Iceland leave their shoes out every evening from December 11 until Christmas!

Each Yule Lad comes down from the mountain, one per night, until all 13 Yule Lads have arrived on Christmas Eve! And as they pass through the towns and cities of Iceland, they put small gifts into the children's shoes—if they children remembered to put their shoes in the windows!

Some towns portray the 13 Yule Lads
as 13 red-coated Santas!
The Yule Lads are trolls from Icelandic folklore, but they started out in stories as a lot more mean—maybe even evil!—than they are portrayed today. These days, they range from jolly and sweet Santa characters to more traditional-looking tricksters. Some Icelanders call them the Christmas Men.

By the way, the Yule Lads supposedly give to children who have been naughty, not lumps of coal, but rather potatoes. I've even read that misbehaving kids are supposedly given rotten potatoes. I bet that's just a threat, and that nobody really wakes up to discover his or her shoe filled with rotten potatoes!

Today the Icelandic children are discovering the gift left by Stubby, the Yule Lad who is abnormally short and who steals pans to eat the crust left on them. Tonight the Yule Lad Spoon-Licker will arrive in town and leave another small gift. (I think you can guess what this lad does!) Some of the other Yule Lads include Gully Gawk, Pot-Scraper, Window-Peeper, and Candle-Stealer.

(Of course, all these names are in the Icelandic language: Stúfur, Þvörusleikir, Giljagaur, Pottaskefill, Gluggagægir, Kertasníkir, and so on.)

I was surprised to find out that this beloved custom only got its start in Iceland around the 1930s, and that the Folk Custom Division of the National Museum had to step in and launch an informational campaign to tweak the custom into the form enjoyed by Icelanders today! I guess I always assume that customs like these have been in place for centuries rather than decades.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the first “modern-day” imitation pearls 

Anniversary of the first humans to reach South Pole

Plan ahead:

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