I am sometimes asked what the weirdest Christmas traditions from around the world are, and while some might guess it’s a furry devil who carries off naughty children in a basket, a smiling log that poops nougaty cake when you hit it with a stick, or the only giant in the world who didn’t commit suicide in terror at the advent of the infant Christ, I think I’m going to go in a different direction.
I think I’m going to call it—tentatively, because there’s always something else out there, and stuff is always slipping my mind—for Iceland’s jólasveinarnir, aka the Yule Lads.
I hear you scoffing at the concept that the island nation that brought us Björk could possibly have the world’s weirdest Christmas shit, but hear me out.
As evidenced by the fact that they use the name of the pre-Christian winter celebration Yule in their own name, the Yule Lads are old as hell. They are a group of troll brothers (of varying number, but canonized as thirteen in a popular poem, similar to the way Clement Moore canonized the number and names of Santa’s reindeer) who come down from the lava fields starting on December 12 and then FUCK YOUR SHIT UP until Epiphany.
Their mother is Grýla, a giantess attested to as far back as the 13th century Eddas. She steals up naughty children and cooks them into stews in an attempt to slake her insatiable appetite. Also: she is immortal. You can kill her, but that only slows her down. She is so terrifying that literally the first child safety law in Iceland was a public decree in 1746 saying that it is Officially Uncool to frighten children with stories of her and her children.
She has, according to legend, been married three times. Presumably she murdered and ate her first two husbands. But her third husband is Leppalúði, notable mostly for not getting killed and eaten by Grýla and subsequently knocking her up at least thirteen times.
Their pet is the Yule Cat, a giant black beast who eats any child who has not been gifted with new clothes prior to Christmas. I always hated getting clothes for Christmas. I suspect it’s different in Iceland.
Then there are the lads themselves. They begin coming down from the mountains on December 12, a new one each day, then hang around for two weeks, until the final Yule Lad finally departs on the day of Epiphany.
Here are the first half of the thirteen brothers and their days:
Dec 12: Stekkjastaur, aka Sheep-Cote Clod: he will sneak onto your farm and suck all your sheep’s teats dry! Dry fuckin’ teats! Watch out! The good news: his legs do not bend at the knee, so tip him over for shits and LOLs.
Dec 13: Giljagaur, aka Gully Gawk: he waits around in gullies until the milk maid goes out for a midnight rendezvous—a SEX rendezvous—with the neighbor boy, and then he SKIMS ALL YOUR FUCKING CREAM SO WATCH OUT
Dec 14: Stúfur, aka Stubby: This short bastard sneaks into your kitchen and licks all the greasy, burny bits out of the bottom of your pans.
Dec 15: Þvörusleikir, aka Spoon-Licker: This guy steals all your long-handled wooden stirring spoons and just…just licks the shit out of them. But this is his only sustenance, so this guy is like hella malnourished. He gets pretty into it, though:
Dec 16: Pottaskefill, aka Pot-Scraper: Just like licking the bowl is a treat for kids today, scraping the good stuff out of the bottom of the pot was a special thing for Icelandic children of olden tymes. This fucker wants to deprive you of that joy. He will wait until the parents have left the room, then knock on the door. When the children go to answer it, he runs in and scrapes your fucking bowls! That’s cold, Pottaskefill.
Dec 17: Askasleikir, aka Bowl-Licker: In Iceland, they have a special lidded bowl called an askur that looks like this:
After you ate your meal from this bowl, you might set it down to let your dog or cat lick the scraps from it as a special Christmas treat. But Askasleikir isn’t going to let that happen! He hides under your bed, waiting for you to set the bowl down, and as soon as you do, it snatches it up and just rubs his sick-ass troll tongue all over it! Merry Christmas, household pets!
The other half tomorrow. Still to come: door slammers, peeping toms, sausage grabbers, and even moooooorrrrrrreeeeeee!
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