In this entertaining video by Iceland Naturally you’ll get to know more about the story of the Yule Lads, who are one of Iceland’s oldest and best known folktales.
Known as Jólasveinar in Icelandic, the Yule Lads are a group of 13 merry but mischievous brothers who take turns visiting kids on the 13 nights leading up to Christmas Eve on the 24th of December. On each of those nights, children place one of their shoes on the windowsill of their bedroom. For good boys and girls, the Yule Lad will leave a piece of candy or a small toy. If not, the Yule Lads are not subtle in expressing their disapproval: they fill the shoe with rotten potatoes.
Don’t think well-behaved Icelandic kids have a sweet deal all around, however. They may enjoy 13 Santa Claus-like visits, but they also have to contend with not only their mother, a hideous troll called Grýla who comes down from the mountains on Christmas and boils naughty children alive, but also a giant, blood-thirsty black cat called the Christmas Cat (Jólakötturinn) that prowls around the country on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who’s not wearing at least one new piece of clothing, specifically bought or made for the festive period.
That’s how the old story goes, but these days the Yule Lads, Grýla and The Christmas Cat are a lot less creepy than they were in olden times, particularly due to a law passed in 1746 that officially banned parents from tormenting their kids with monster stories.
These days, they’re mostly benign — save for the harmless tricks they like to play on Icelandic families. Much like Snow White’s seven dwarfs, each of the Yule Lads has his own distinct personality which is expressed in their name.