The Yule Lads, or Yulemen, are an Icelandic tradition. Although their numbers have changed over time, today the Icelanders count thirteen of them. For the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas Eve, children put their shoes on windowsills. Each night, one of the lads will come down from the mountains to visit homes. The children wake up to find their shoes filled with either a present or a rotten potato, depending on the child’s behavior.
The lads are the sons of the troll Gryla (Hag) whose favorite snack is a stew of naughty children. She and her husband Leppaluoi (Ragamuffin) are often accompanied by the Christmas Cat, a beast like a black panther, who will track down and eat any child who does not get at least one article of clothing for Christmas. Icelandic children do not complain about receiving shoes or garments.
Children were so afraid of Gryla and Leppaluoi that a public decree was issued in 1746 prohibiting parents from frightening their children with monsters or fiends such as the Yule Lads and their parents.
Long ago, their number and likenesses varied according to where the children lived. In some locations, the lads were pranksters. In others, they were monsters who enjoyed killing and eating children. Over time, the lads became more like pranksters than monsters throughout Iceland.
Originally, the Yule Lads were seen as mischief-makers who would prey on rural farmers, but their characters softened over time. Today, they are seen as more benevolent, almost as kind as Santa Claus. In the past, they were depicted wearing medieval Icelandic clothing. Today, however, they are often shown wearing costumes similar to Santa.
Sheep-Cote Clod has peg legs, which makes him stiff, and he annoys sheep.
Gully Gawk hides in gullies and steals milk from cows.
Stubby is short and steals pans with crusts left behind.
Spoon-Licker is extremely thin because he finds so little to eat.
Pot-Scraper steals leftovers from pots.
Bowl-Licker hides under beds and steals dishes of food.
Door-Slammer likes to slam doors, usually at night.
Skyr-Gobbler loves skyr, a type of yogurt.
Sausage-Swiper hides in rafters and steals sausages, of course.
Window-Peeper looks through windows in search of stuff to steal.
Doorway-Sniffer has a huge nose and sniffs around searching for bread.
Meat-Hook uses a hook to steal meat, of course.
Candle-Stealer follows children around to steal their candles, which were edible long ago because they were made from tallow.
Near Christmas, several wandering Yule Lads dressed in Santa-like costumes can be seen around malls and shops in Iceland. The children have no problem with seeing several Santas at once. If you google the Yule Lads, you can see pictures of them.
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