Iceland celebrates Christmas like most Western countries, mostly with delicious food and gifts for loved ones. Along with candlelit family time and Christmas family gatherings which plays an important role for most families. Unlike most countries that have a single Father Christmas or what is widely known as Santa Claus, Icelandic children are fortunate enough to be visited by 13 Yule Lads over the last thirteen nights before Christmas.
The Yule Lads originate from Icelandic folklore but are, of course, very much alive and well. In Icelandic they are called Jólasveinar and are the Icelandic version of Santa Claus times thirteen! The Yule Lads are a kind of trolls that live in the mountains and come to town one at a time in December each year. Each Yule lad has a specific idiosyncrasy and will, therefore, behave in a particular manner. The 13 brothers are considered to be tricksters and their names explain their specialty. They are children of Grýla and Leppalúði which are quite daunting trolls which children are told to be afraid off, and for good reason which will not be discussed furthermore to protect the good spirit of Christmas. Also to be mentioned is their equally scary pet, the big black Christmas Cat. We dare not to speak of his role in the family but some would say it is similar to Azrael, the cat of wizard Gargamel from the know comic the Smurfs. The Christmas Cat can now be petted in Laekjartorg square in Reykjavik every day (and night) in December. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Icelandic children place a shoe in their bedroom window, with excitement, each evening in the 13 days leading to Christmas. Every night one Yule lad visits, leaving sweets and small gifts or rotting potato, depending on how that particular child has behaved on the preceding day. This tradition has been exploited by parents throughout the years and is nowadays considered as one of the biggest tools parents have in their bag of arsenal’s in parenting as kids are asked to go to bed fairly early and behave well. No kid want’s to jump from their bed in excitement the next morning, only to find a rotten potato in their shoe because of bad behavior the day before. With all the cold, long and dark days in December and the melancholia that comes with it, it goes without saying that this special parenting trick is much needed. Thank goodness for the Northern Lights as Icelanders are fortunate enough to see the majestically green lights slither in the sky every now and then.