You better watch out...
December 22, 2006 9:17 AM   Subscribe

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but do you know Stekkjarstaur, Giljagaur, Stufur, Thvorusleikir, Pottaskefill, Askasleikir, Hurdarskellir, Skyrgamur, Bjugnakraekir, Gluggagaegir, Gattathefur, Ketkrokur and Kertasnikir? They're the Jolasveinar, the impish "Yuletide Lads" of Iceland, and those are only some of their many names. During the thirteen days before Christmas, legend says that they do their best to monkeywrench the celebrations with hijinks like stealing sausages, milk, and candles, and peeping into windows and up skirts. The children of gruesome child-eating trolls Gryla and Leppaludi, who were known for snatching naughty children, the elves got their start in the 17th century. In the years since, their image has apparently mellowed, and now they leave children presents in their shoes and limit themselves to mild pranks.
posted by Miko (21 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Great stuff. I was just in Iceland for my mother-in-law's birthday and the Yule Lads are definitely one of the weirder Christmas traditions.

I did all of the present buying and wrapping for my immediate family this year, so my husband declared that I was one of the Yule Lads - I chose to be Sausage Snatcher, though the temptation to be Stiff Legs who "bothers the sheep" was also pretty high.

Also great: The Icelandic Christmas Cat who will eat you if you did not get clothes for Christmas. Genius way of convincing Icelandic children that clothes are an acceptable present!

Gleðileg jól!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:48 AM on December 22, 2006

You forgot quonsar.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:50 AM on December 22, 2006 [2 favorites]

you have to pacify them with offerings of food. We have two models of these guys sitting in our house - yay for Scandinavian Christmases!
posted by wumpus at 9:53 AM on December 22, 2006

You are not the first to pass this way, nor shall you be the last?
posted by cavalier at 10:43 AM on December 22, 2006

They're not Icelanders, they're The Firesign Theatre!
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:06 PM on December 22, 2006

What fun!
posted by dejah420 at 12:26 PM on December 22, 2006

but do you know Stekkjarstaur, Giljagaur, Stufur, Thvorusleikir, Pottaskefill, Askasleikir, Hurdarskellir, Skyrgamur, Bjugnakraekir, Gluggagaegir, Gattathefur, Ketkrokur and Kertasnikir?

posted by dhartung at 1:43 PM on December 22, 2006

Charming post. Winter in Iceland can be amazing. Neat country and people. Fascinating to read a bit about their culture and mythology. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 2:00 PM on December 22, 2006

Yup, gotta love them.

I'd like to add that the reason they're still popular with Icelandic children is that it means extra presents for them. The story goes that on each of the thirteen nights before christmas, one of the jólasveinar comes to town and leaves a small present for the nice children. And they do, which is why this is the kind of folklore that kids can get enthusiastic about

I can't be bothered to translate it but I remember one christmas song quite vividly. It deals with how Grýla would starve if all the children were nice, but if you were naughty she'd come and stuff you in her bag, take you back to her lair, boil you alive and eat you. The end of the song, where she and her husband starve to death due to a shortage of naughty children, always saddened me.

My mother (born 1944) once told me that back in the day, whe was properly terrified of the jólasveinar, whereas now they're just Santa Claus clones (but skinnier, and more prone to burst out into song).
posted by Zero Gravitas at 3:02 PM on December 22, 2006

quonsar, however never fit in with the rest of the jólasveinar. He tried to convince them that wearing fish down their trousers would warm them on their long, cold hikes across the highlands in the chill of winter, but they wouldnt even give him a chance.

So much for innovation.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 3:10 PM on December 22, 2006

I think I bought a Skyrgamur last year. It came flat-packed in a box. Makes a great entertainment center!
posted by ninjew at 3:35 PM on December 22, 2006

They eat puffins you know.
posted by Artw at 6:57 PM on December 22, 2006

I'd like to give a shoutout to the Julbock, myself. Because nothing says "festive holiday season" more than a Yule Goat.

Oh, wait! there's Gunther!

(sorry, Icelandic fans, I think my Swedish relations have got you trumped with the goofy here... all hail Gunther!)
posted by at 8:07 PM on December 22, 2006

Also: Bjork
posted by Artw at 8:14 PM on December 22, 2006 Wow. I didn't know Gunther was Swedish. I thought he was German. Either way, I can proclaim my love for the "Ding-Dong Song" as the anthem of my people.

(I may be married to an Icelander, but I'm of Swedish descent myself and I have the "Swedish Mafia" tshirt to prove it.)

As much as I love the Yule Goat and *real* Swedish meatballs, and the Dalar House, I do resent the goddamned lutefisk. That stuff's just gross.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:15 PM on December 22, 2006

Artw: They eat puffins AND reindeer. I've even had reindeer for Christmas Eve dinner. It was like eating a small piece of my soul, having been raised in the land of Rudolph and all.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:16 PM on December 22, 2006

ARGH. Dalar HORSE. Stupid brain death.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:17 PM on December 22, 2006

Well, so long as you're correcting yourself, it's actually Dala horse.
posted by alexei at 10:55 PM on December 22, 2006

Terrific seasonal post, miko - so well researched. It was fun to read - thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 4:12 AM on December 23, 2006

I've had reindeer jerky, biut TBH it was pretty much like any other jerky: i.e. sort of like trying to eat a belt.
posted by Artw at 5:37 PM on December 23, 2006

grapefruitmoon, I, too have the Swedish Mafia shirt! (here for the uninitiated)!

But wait -- isn't lutefisk more Norwegiany? And yes, totally gross. I'll take the meatballs any day. Or roast pork with apricots and prunes -- I make that + hasselback potatoes (not to be confused with Hasselhoff, thanks) = YUM.
posted by at 12:18 AM on December 25, 2006

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