The first of 13 “Yule Lads” travelled across Iceland last night filling good children’s shoes with gifts, RÚV reports. Rather than a single Santa Claus, Icelandic children look forward to visits from 13 mischievous Yule Lads, who come down one by one from the mountain Esja in the days leading up to Christmas bringing presents. Children leave a shoe in the window and, if they have been good, when they awake they find a gift inside. Those children who have not behaved well throughout the year, however, are said to receive a potato instead.
The thirteen Yule Lads are not as jolly as the Santa Claus readers are familiar with. They were traditionally portrayed as trouble-making trolls who steal food and cause a ruckus around Christmastime. Their image has softened over time and now tends to focus on their gift-giving.
The thirteen Yule Lads in order of appearance are:
Stekkjastaur (Sheepcote Clod), who has two peg legs and breaks into sheep pens to suckle the ewes.
Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), who slurps the froth off fresh milk.
Stúfur (Stubby), who is named for his lack of height and raids the kitchen for dirty pans he can lick clean.
Þvörusleikir (Spoon Licker), Pottaskefill (Pot Licker), and Askasleikir (Bowl Licker) are the next three, whose activities live up to their names.
Hurðaskellir (Door Slammer), enjoys scaring people by unexpectedly slamming the doors in their houses.
Skyrgámur (Skyr Gobbler), whose favourite treat is Iceland’s traditional yogurt-like dairy product.
Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper), steals bjúga: a salty, smoked Icelandic sausage.
Gluggagægir (Window Peeper), peeps through windows in search of food to eat.
Gáttaþefur (Door Sniffer), sniffs around for laufabrauð, an Icelandic Christmas treat.
Ketkrókur (Meat Hook), sticks his hook down chimneys to steal meat, preferably smoked lamb.
Kertasníkir (Candle Beggar), rather than stealing food, enjoys swiping candles, especially from children.