While watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s special winter solstice episode, I was surprised (and happy) to see the spooky legend of Grýla and her Yule Lads exemplified on a mainstream television show. While the lasting legend involves only 13, there are actually records of names of over 70 different Yule Lads. And while popular culture usually uses Santa as their gift giver, Icelandic children are lucky enough to be visited by 13 Yule Lads. While Sabrina may have depicted them as malevolent, they actually have a way better reputation than their mother, Grýla (more on her in a post coming soon).
The Yule Lads live in Iceland, way up north in Myvatn at Dimmuborgir, which means dark fortress or dark cities. There, you can find their cave hidden away, where the lava rock formations make you feel like you stepped into a fairytale. The rocks are fragile; this makes a perfect playground for the lads. The Yule Lads sleep in their cave in the summertime, and are barely seen as they are thought to be resting. But in November and December, watch out; you might run into them in the caves or at the Myvatn Nature Baths- where they take their single bath a year.
If you stumble upon the cave, you might find the Yule Lad’s clothes hanging up to dry or a kitchen dirtied with food scraps. They’re are beds for every single one of them; look around all you want; but you better hope they don’t find you there!
The lasting 13 are all pranksters and each have a name that describes just what mischief they manage. Here is the list of names and the translation:
- Stekkjastaur– Sheep-Cote Clod
- Giljagaur – Gully Gawk
Stúfur – Stubby
- Þvörusleikir – Spoon Licker
- Pottaskefill – Pot Scraper
- Askasleikir – Bowl Licker
- Hurðaskellir – Door Slammer (he loves waking people up by slamming doors)
- Skyrgámur – Skyr Gobbler
- Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Swiper
- Gluggagægir – Window Peeper
- Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer
- Ketkrókur – Meat Hook
- Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar
Thirteen days before Christmas, the first Yule Lad arrives in inhabited areas, with one new arriving each day until the 24th of December (Icelandic people celebrate on Christmas Eve).
Since around 1950, it’s tradition for the children to leave one shoe on their windowsill 13 days before Christmas. Kids receive either sweets and gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on the child’s behavior. The first Yule Lad to arrive is Stekkjastaur, and the last is Kertasníkir. From him, well behaving children receive the biggest present in their shoe on the 24th.
After Christmas, the Yule Lads return back to their home in Dimmuborgir, one by one, in the same order they arrived until the last leaves on January 6th, the last day of Christmas celebration in Icelandic tradition.
Most might be unsympathetic to the Yule lad’s mischievous ways. However, please remember being raised by feared ogress Grýla and her third husband Leppalúði makes the Yule Lads pale in comparison. Another fun fact, the Lads are tight with the infamous Christmas Cat, as the Yule Cat is Grýla’s favorite pet. You can read about the Yule Cat here.