Unlike most other countries that only have one Santa Claus, Iceland has thirteen. They are called Jólasveinar (Yule lads or perhaps Christmas boys) and take turns visiting our children the 13 nights leading up to Christmas Eve. Children place one of their shoes on the windowsill of their rooms on each of those nights. For those children that behave well during that day the Yule lads will leave candy or a small treat but for those who behave badly can expect a rotten potato.
The Yule lads are a part of an Icelandic Christmas folklore that depict mountain-dwelling characters and trolls who come to town during the Christmas period. The parents of the Yule lads are trolls called Grýla (mother) and Leppalúði (father). In the tails Grýla is a scary troll who has the ability to detect when children misbehave, hunts them down, and takes them back to her cave for making stew of them. Leppalúði is known as the lazy husband who does not do much other than enjoy Grýla´s food. This “nice” couple own a big black cat known as the Christmas cat (jólakötturinn). The Christmas cat is vicious and likes to hunt children who do not receive anything new to wear for Christmas and eats them - not a typically well received notion in modern cultures 😊
Traditionally the Yule lads behaved as you would expect trolls to behave and they received their names as to describe their mischievious behaviour such as Door-Slammer who likes to slam doors loudly, Spoon-Licker who likes to steal unwashed spoons with traces of food and lick them clean etc.
The Yule lads are generally depicted as wearing “traditional” peasant´s garb, wool and sheepskins but are sometimes shown wearing the costume traditionally worn by Santa Claus, especially at children´s events.
The stories of the Yule lads first appeared in the 17th century but in the early 20th century the tradition of the 13 lads changed and they picked up the gift-giving habits of their foreign colleagues. Now Icelandic children anxiously await their arrival, the first, Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote-Clod) arrived last night.
For the coming days leading up to Christmas we will introduce to you each of the Icelandic Yule lads as they arrive!
December 12 – Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote-Clod) is the first Yule Lad who comes to town on the night before the 12th of December and also the first to depart for home on the 25th December. He was said to harass sheep, suck milk from them and was known for having two stiff peg-legs.