A Family Portrait, Part I: The Yule Lads

Deep in the mountains of Iceland, thirteen hairy, wrinkly trolls dwell with their evil ogre parents and a flesh-eating family cat. Every Christmas, they make their way down from the mountain to cause mischief and leave small gifts for the children tucked soundly in bed. These trolls are called the Yule Lads.

Christmas in Iceland is a lengthy ordeal beginning with the first Yule Lad’s arrival on December 12 and lasting until the departure of last Yule Lad on January 6. These troublesome trolls arrive in the town one at a time and each stays for exactly two weeks. During this time they cause all sorts of damage. However, they also leave small presents.

Starting on December 12, the children leave a shoe on their windowsill for the Yule Lads to deposit their gifts. Traditionally, these surprises would be nuts and dried fruit. If the child had been misbehaving, the trolls would stuff the shoes with rotting potatoes.

Meet the Yule Lads

Each of the thirteen trolls has an infamous quality and a name associated with their naughty side. One by one they sneak into town to stir up trouble.

December 12: Sheep-Cote-Clod (aka Stekkjastaur) hobbles into town on two peg legs to torment everyone’s sheep.

December 13: Thirsty little Gully Gawk (Gilljagaur) begins hiding in gulches until farmers leave their barns unattended. When his window of opportunity arises, he sneaks in and takes milk.

December 14: The super-short troll named Stubby (Stúfur) pops into town to eat the uneaten crusts out of pie pans.

December 15: Spoon-Licker (Þvörusleikir) comes to steal all the wooden spoons and lick them clean. Unfortunately, this dim-witted troll is pretty thin and malnourished from not getting any real meals.

December 16: Pot-Licker (Pottasleikir) is a little wiser and devours all of the leftovers.

December 17: Bowl-Licker (Askasleikir) hides under beds and waits to snag food from bowls that people put down.

December 18: Door-Slammer (Hurðaskellir) revels in scaring the shit out of people by slamming doors at night.

December 19: Skyr-Gobbler (Skyrgámur) shows up to devour all of the Skyr (Icelandic yogurt) that he can find.

December 20: Sausage-Swiper (Bjúgnakrækir) hangs out in the rafters until he can swoop in and run off with freshly smoked sausages.

December 21: Window Peeper (Gluggagægir) is Iceland’s very own creep. He peers through windows looking for things to steal. (Let’s hope he’s not looking for anything else.)

December 22: Door-Sniffer (Gáttaþefur) uses his blood-hound nose to find all of the laufabrauð, which is traditional holiday bread.

December 23: Meat-Hook (Ketkrókur) steals juicy grub with a giant hook. (I can’t help but picture a savage serial killer when I hear this name. Sorry, bud.)

December 24: Candle-Stealer (Kertasníkir) follows children around and steals their candles, presumably to eat the tallow. It also seems reasonable that he gets a kick out of making kids scared of the dark.

Taming the Beasts

The Yule Lads used to be pretty sinister. In 1746, however, a law was passed that banned parents from using these tales to frighten their children. Soon after that, the trolls found themselves to be benevolent, gift-giving creatures.

Despite their newfound kindness, they still like to have their monkey fun. If anything, they make sure Iceland has the coolest Christmas creeps ever.

It seems like every other country has richer holiday traditions than the ol’ U.S. of A. Probably because its roots are young and the settlers were too busy scrambling for fortune. They didn’t put in the time to make up horrific folklore to ensure their kids were raised as kind, hard-working citizens.

Or maybe I’m just too lost in the thought of escaping…. The thought that anywhere is better than here. Still, I think it would be pretty awesome to have thirteen slightly devilish trolls leave dried fruit in my Vans on Christmas.

Don’t forget to check out A Family Portrait, Part II where we meet the trolls’ horrible parents and their blood-thirsty tabby.

If you got a kick out of this lore, please share it so that others can find it. Thanks!


Author Unknown. “Celebrating Christmas With 13 Trolls.” Iceland.is. n.d. Web. 2 December 2015.

Author Unknown. “The Yule Lads.” YuleLads.com. n.d. Web. 2 December 2015.

Calnan, Thomas. “5 Creepy Christmas Traditions from Around the World.” Cracked.com. 23 December 2010. Web. 2 December 2015.

Cellania, Miss. “9 Legendary Monsters of Christmas.” MentalFloss.com. 12 December 2013. Web. 2 December2015.

Originally published at noxodd.wordpress.com on December 4, 2015.