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Yuletide lads

Grýla og Leppalúði
The parents

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Yuletide lads


Anna María




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The Icelanders prepare for Christmas in various ways.  In most homes the preparations start by the end of November and go on until Christmas arrives.  On Christmas Eve, the church bells of the country chime at the same time, or "ring in" the festive season; many attend the services, and the first Christmas meal is eaten.  This is also the time, when Christmas presents are openend.

There is a long traditions in Iceland for all sorts of baking, cleaning and various decorations, and many house wives or husbands prepare numerous dishes, which have traditionally been on the Christmas table for centuries. 

"Laufabraud" (thin, crisp, disk shaped wheat bread, "Hangikjot", smoked and pickled lamb, is a must in every home and many take great pain in preparing it in their own traditional way.  Then there is the cured ray (skate) with melted suet, which is on the dinner table on the 23rd of December (Mass of the only patron saint of Iceland, the Holy Bishop Thorlakur).

The Christmas festivities last for thirteen days.  During Advent, children are traditionally given some trifle in a shue they place on the window sill in their bedroom.  This begins when the first of the Yuletide lads arrives in the inhabited areas on December 12

Christmas is rather a serious time in Iceland compared to many other countries, i.e. in Southern Europe.  Charasteristical are the numerous family gatherings all over the country.  Then "tables sway" with delicacies prepared for the season.  It is not uncommon for people to attend two or even three such gatherings day after day.

Although there are many traditions in Iceland, the Christmas lads (13) and their ugly, ogress like mother, Gryla, and her husband, the weakling Leppaludi, are what fascinates most of our visitors.  Gryla surpasses her husband.  She puts badly behaved children in her sack and takes them with her to the mountains.  Leppaludi, her husband, is really a henpecked weakling.  Badly behaved children, who escape her sack, become the victims of the "Christmas Cat", i.e. do not receive any presents.

Source:  The Yuletide Garden
Sletta, 601 Akureyri
Tel.:  463-1433
Fax:  463-1434
Open the whole year round.


Old sources do not agree on the total number of Yuletide lads in Iceland and vary between the different parts of the country.  Some refer to 13 others to 9.  According to common practices nowadays, their number is 13.  They are the sons of the ogress Gryla and her subservient husband Leppaludi.  Badly behaved children were threatened with the ugly Gryla, and were told, she would come and take them away and cook them for dinner.  This large family is supposed to live in a cave somewhere in the mountains and keeps quiet until Christmas approaches.  Then the Yuletide lads start appearing one by one, the first one 13 days before Christmas.  Their behaviour is unusual to say the least and they are all dressed in old-fashioned cloths or rags and their names originate in the old society of farmers and country folks.  They do not wear the clean red and white attire of Santa Claus.

The first one to arrive in civilized areas is
SHEEP COT DOLT, (STEKKJASTAUR 12 December) who heads directly for the sheep cot to have fun with disturbing the sheep.  The second one to arrive is

, (GILJAGAUR 13 December) who rushes for the cowshed to try to get some milk. The third one to arrive is

, (STÚFUR 14 December) who is extremely attracted to the contents of the kitchens, and does not miss a chance to
snatch something to eat.  The forth one to arrive is

(ÞVÖRUSLEIKIR 15 December) who is very lean.  He concentrates on finding pots with something well tasting and
licks the ladles.  The fifth one to arrive is

, (POTTASLEIKIR 16 December) who consumes the burnt layers of food from the pots and leaves them shining clean.
The sixth one to arrive is

, (FALDAFEYKIR 17 December) who always arrives late enough to get to the food rests left by the children and
finish the food from their bowls.  The seventh one to arrive is

, (HURÐASKELLIR 18 December) who hides in dark corners and waits for the opportunity to tease the people at the
farms and slams the doors during the night to wake everybody up.  The eighth one to arrive is

, (SKYRGÁMUR December) who thinks of nothing but gourmet food and steals skyr from the larders, whenever
he gets the opportunity.  The ninth one to arrive is

, (BJÚGNAKRÆKIR 20 December) who raids the larders, because of his constant hunger, and prefers the well-
tasting sausages.  The tenth one to arrive is

, (GLUGGAGÆGIR 21 December) who is extremely curious.  He makes faces at the windows scare the children, who
run and hide, but the grown ups only laugh. The eleventh one to arrive is

, (GÁTTAÞEFUR 22 December) who uses his sensitive nose to find all kinds of things, especially food, standing
in doorways of houses.  The twelfth one to arrive is

, (KJÖTKRÓKUR 23 December) who likes smoked lamb very much, spares no effort to hook a leg of lamb from the
stove through the chimney.  The last one to arrive is

, (KERTASNÍKIR 24 December) who fancies candle lights and never gets enough candles for himself although he snatches quite a few from the children.

Immediately after they have all gathered in the inhabited areas and entertained people, they start back to their parents one by one until the 6th of January, when the Icelanders celebrate by bonfires and fireworks the end of Christmas and the time of year, when the elves move house and travel about in their colourful attire on horseback.  New year’s eve is also celebrated with much ado, large bonfires and hours of fireworks until the wee hours of the morning.

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