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Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland Beware: The Yule Lads Are Descending on You Today

This is your final warning.

It’s that special time of year, 13 days before Christmas when the children of Iceland prepare for special winter visitors–that’s right, it’s time to welcome back Stekkjastaur (Icelandic Santa) and his 12 troll brothers. Together, these 13 trolls make up the Yule Lads, a band of prankster Santa-esque figures who descend, one by one, over 13 days before Christmas from their mountain home once a year for their annual Christmas bath–and to distribute gifts or punishments to Icelandic children, depending on what their behavior was like over the past year.

eeems/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

So, for the next 13 days, Icelandic children can expect a treat, or if they were not-so-good, a trick (rotten potatoes in their shoes, for example). It all kicks off today, with Stekkjastaur making his way down to his bath–which, since roads and schools have been shut down in Iceland due to record high snowfall, has kids a little worried, as Stekkjastaur has a peg-leg and might become stuck in the snow.

The Yule Lads were born out of Icelandic folklore, and although they might resemble Santa Claus (their distant cousin), slightly, they are much, much ruder. Each year, Icelandic actors dress up like the Yule Lads in Myvatn, an inland community, and trek to a natural lagoon, heated by hot springs.

Inga Vitola/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Let’s get to know the Yule Lads before the festivities begin (today!) so that you can be prepared to meet them (if you are currently a child living in Iceland).

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Stekkjarstaur: Also known as “Icelandic Santa,” Stekkjarstaur mostly harasses sheep.

Gully Gawk: Gully Gawk hides in large ditches (aka gullies) and steals milk from cows.

Stubby: Stubby steals used pans, so that he can eat the crust off of them. He is also very short.

Spoon-Licker: Well, Spoon-Licker steals spoons (shocking), which he then licks the old food off of. He’s very thin because this is the only nutrition his body receives. Ever.

Pot-Scraper: He steals food from pots.

Bowl-Licker: He steals bowls, but has a specific method–by hiding underneath a bed and waiting for children to put down their bowls… and then he steals them.

Door-Slammer: Door-Slammer slams doors, particularly at night so that it wakes everyone up.

Skyr-Gobbler: This Yule Lad loves skyr, an Icelandic dairy product.

Sausage-Swiper: He steals sausages, but lately is known for hosting barbeques.

Window-Peeper: This one’s a little snoop–he peeps through windows and looks for items to steal.

Doorway-Sniffer: He has a big nose, which helps him easily locate bread (in which to steal).

Meat-Hook: This Yule Lad (get this) steals meat… with a hook.

Candle-Stealer: Candle-Stealer, the final Yule Lad, steals candles…and then he eats the candles.

Here’s hoping Stekkjastaur makes it down the mountain, to his bath, and to all of his visits with the Icelandic children.

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