Today, wandering around Reykjavik I saw some fridge magnets featuring The Yuletide Lads. I wanted to buy them for my friend, Avril Price, but alas, as with many things here in Iceland, they were too expensive. So I had a little look, a little giggle and strolled on.
Later, I arrived back to my room at the Radisson Blu 1919 to find an A4 print out on the bed. It featured the Candle Eater (I think it should be ‘Beggar’ but has been translated incorrectly); yesterday there was one with Meat Hook on it. I realised they are, indeed, the Yuletide Lads and the National Museum of Iceland’s website have a brilliant explanation.
..the Icelandic Yule Lads are descended from trolls and their original role was to strike fear in the hearts of children…they are the sons of two of the most hideous ogres ever known in Iceland…
Parents would use the Yuletide Lads as a threat to get their children to behave. However, the authorities stepped in in 1746 and a public decree was issued prohibiting parents to frighten their children in such a way (I know, PC gone mad!).
Over time the Yuletide Lads became lovable rogues rather than murderous monsters…and these days have taken on a more Santa-like appearance (although the Yuletide Lads in the fridge magnet set were far more GQ).
They like children now, and even leave gifts in their shoes.
The Yuletide Lads arrive from the 12th December until Christmas Eve. Here’s the low down (based on a poem by Jóhannes úr Kötlum translated in English by Hallberg Hallmundsoon).
12th December – Sheep-Cote Clod: he’d try to “suck the ewes” but sadly couldn’t, because his knees were too stiff. (There are no words.)
13th December – Gully Gawk: this one would sneak into the cow shed to steal the milk “while the milkmaid gave the cowherd a meaningful smile.”
14th December – Stubby (also known as Pan Scraper): a little fella who would steal food from the pan (and like me, he loved the bits that stuck to the bottom).
15th December – Spoon Licker: the skinny one who, when the cook wasn’t around, liked to lick the spoon that stirred the pots.
16th December – Pot Scraper (also known as Pot Licker): this “funny sort of chap” would distract the children who were given the pots to scrape so he could lick out the remnants.
17th December – Bowl Licker: “shockingly ill bred” he would hide underneath the bed and when the empty dinner bowls were left out for the cat or dog to lick, he’d snatch them for himself.
18th December – Door Slammer: a “sorry, vulgar chap” who would wreak havoc by slamming doors when people were taking a nap.
19th December – Skyr Gobbler: Skyr is an Icelandic dairy product that tastes like natural yoghurt but has the consistency of cream cheese…and this “awful, stupid bloke” would break into the skyr tub and gobble up its contents until he was fit to burst!
20th December – Sausage Swiper: yep…you’ve guessed it. This “shifty pilferer” would climb the rafters and steal food…“Sitting on the crossbeam / in soot and in smoke, / he fed himself on sausage / fit for gentlefolk.”
21st December – Window Peeper: He is what we used to call a Peeping Tom – but if his eye was drawn to something he liked the look of through the window, he’d come back later and pinch it.
22nd December – Door Sniffer: He had a “huge, sensitive nose” that would sniff the lace bread (a fried snowflake flatbread) from quite a distance, then he would run towards it and steal it away.
23rd December – Meat Hook: Like me, Meat Hook arrived on Saint Thorlák’s Day…although, unlike me, he lowered a long stick down the chimney and “snagged himself a morsel” of whatever meat was cooking on the fire (usually smoked lamb, which is the Icelandic tradition).
24th December – Candle Beggar: lastly, the Candle Beggar longed to have a candle of his very own, so he “trailed after the little ones / who, like happy sprites, / ran about the farm with / their fine tallow lights.”