Yule Lads

The Yuletide-lads, Yule Lads, or Yulemen, (Icelandic: jólasveinarnir or jólasveinar) are figures from Icelandic folklore who in modern times have become the Icelandic version of Santa Claus. Their number has varied throughout the ages, but currently they are considered to be thirteen.[1] They put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children in window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve. Every night, one Yuletide lad visits each child, leaving gifts or rotting potatoes,[2] depending on the child’s behaviour throughout the year.

History and origins

The Yuletide-lads originate from Icelandic folklore.[3] Early on their number and depictions varied greatly depending on location, with each individual Lad ranging from mere pranksters[4] to homicidal monsters who eat children.[5]

In 1932, the poem "Jólasveinarnir" was published as a part of the popular poetry book "Jólin Koma" ("Christmas is Coming") by Icelandic poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum. The poem reintroduced Icelandic society to Icelandic Yuletide folklore and established what is now considered the canonical thirteen Yuletide-lads, their personalities and connection to other folkloric characters.[6]

The Yuletide-lads were originally portrayed as being mischievous, or even criminal, pranksters who would steal from, or in other way harass the population (at the time mostly rural farmers).[7] They all had descriptive names that conveyed their modus operandi.

The Yuletide-lads are traditionally said to be the sons of the mountain-dwelling trolls Grýla and Leppalúði. They would trek from the mountains to scare[8] Icelandic children who misbehaved before Christmas. Additionally, the Yuletide-lads are often depicted with the Yule Cat, a beast that, according to folklore, eats children who don't receive new clothes for Christmas.

Modern depictions

Yule lads lighting a Christmas tree in Akureyri

In modern times the Yuletide-lads have been depicted as taking on a more benevolent role[9] comparable to Santa Claus and other related figures. They are occasionally depicted as wearing late medieval style Icelandic clothing[10] (only in some books and decorations), but are otherwise generally shown wearing the costume traditionally worn by Santa Claus.

List of Yuletide-lads

The Yuletide-lads are said to "come to town" during the last 13 nights before Christmas. Below are the 'official' thirteen Yuletide-lads in the order they arrive (and depart).

Names in English are based on Hallberg Hallmundsson's translation of the poem.[11]

Icelandic Name English translation Description Arrival Departure
Stekkjarstaur Sheep-Cote Clod Harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs. 12 December 25 December
Giljagaur Gully Gawk Hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. 13 December 26 December
Stúfur Stubby Abnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them. 14 December 27 December
Þvörusleikir Spoon-Licker Steals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle - I. þvara) to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition. 15 December 28 December
Pottaskefill Pot-Scraper Steals leftovers from pots. 16 December 29 December
Askasleikir Bowl-Licker Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their 'askur' (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes), which he then steals. 17 December 30 December
Hurðaskellir Door-Slammer Likes to slam doors, especially during the night. 18 December 31 December
Skyrgámur Skyr-Gobbler A Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr. 19 December 1 January
Bjúgnakrækir Sausage-Swiper Would hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked. 20 December 2 January
Gluggagægir Window-Peeper A voyeur who would look through windows in search of things to steal. 21 December 3 January
Gáttaþefur Doorway-Sniffer Has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð. 22 December 4 January
Ketkrókur Meat-Hook Uses a hook to steal meat. 23 December 5 January
Kertasníkir Candle-Stealer Follows children in order to steal their candles (which in those days were made of tallow and thus edible). 24 December 6 January

See also


  1. Celebrating Christmas with 13 trolls Retrieved 1 June 2013
  2. Bad Santas Retrieved 1 June 2013
  3. Eve Online Introduces the “Yule Lads” Retrieved 1 June 2013
  4. The Yule Lads Retrieved 1 June 2013
  5. Forgotten Yule Lads and Lasses Retrieved 1 June 2013
  6. Best places to spend Christmas Retrieved 1 June 2013
  7. The Yule Lads: Friends or Foes? Retrieved 1 June 2013
  8. Bogeymen: Five scary visitors in the night by BBC Retrieved 1 June 2013
  9. Top 10 places to spend your 2010 Christmas Retrieved 1 June 2013
  10. Yule lads: Peoria woman’s family surprises her with Icelandic folklore Retrieved 1 June 2013
  11. "Hallberg Hallmundson's translation of 'Jólasveinarnir' by Jóhannes úr Kötlum". Jóhannes úr Kötlum, skáld þjóðarinnar. Archived from the original on 22 December 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2008.
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