About the Jólasveinarnir
The Yule Lads are characters from Norwegian and Icelandic Folklore. In Iceland they are called Jólasveinarnir.
The Yule Lads can be thought of as mischievous pranksters. But they also have a darker side - some say they are said to be the sons of the mountain-dwelling trolls called Grýla and Leppalúði.
Today, in western Norway and Iceland they appear in the 13 days immediately before Christmas. Each night children put out shoes and the Yule Lad for that day may put a sweet in the shoe – if he considers the owner deserves it! If not, he might put a potato in it instead.
The traditional Yule Lads have names (such as Pot Scraper and Sausage Swiper) that reflect the poverty of rural Scandinavian society – they represent the dark powers that lurk outside the farmstead and which, through bad luck or bad management, could easily take over. Today, the Yule Lads are slightly more jolly, but Icelandic children still treat them with a degree of caution.
The Culham/REEP Yule Lads have been adapted for a modern British situation – for a start, there are some Yule Lasses as well as Lads. They are found in a modern house and they will question you about aspects of behaviour that are typical of modern life – though not all the questions are as serious as others. If they think you deserve it then, like the traditional Yule Lads, they’ll put a potato in your shoe.
Although the Yule Lads are from Scandinavian folklore their questions reflect the traditional understanding of Advent as a period of self-reflection. Don’t worry, though, if you seem to fail their every challenge – the Christmas story does have a happy ending!
In rural Scandinavian society storytellers could make up some of the names for the Jólasveinarnir, depending on their audience.
In 1932 the Icelandic poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem about the Jólasveinarnir as a part of the popular poetry book Jólin Koma (Christmas Arrives). It was this book that established the thirteen names that are widely used today:
Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Fold Clod – Has a peg leg and upsets the sheep
in the sheep-fold.
Giljagaur – Gully Gawk – Hides in gullies and sneaks out to steal milk.
Stúfur – Stubby – A dwarfish figure who steals pans to eat the pie crust left sticking on them.
Þvörusleikir – Spoon Licker – Half-starved and thin as a rake, this character steals spoons.
Pottaskefill – Pot Scraper – Steals food left in pots.
Askasleikir – Bowl Licker – Hides under beds waiting for food-bowls to be placed on the floor, which he then grabs.
Hurðaskellir – Door Slammer – Slams doors in the middle of the night.
Skyrgámur – Skyr Gobbler – Steals Skyr, a kind of yoghurt popular in Iceland.
Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Swiper – hides in the rafters and steals the sausages that are hanging up to smoke.
Gluggagægir –Window Peeper – Peeps through the window looking for loot.
Gáttaþefur – Door Sniffer – Has a big nose that can sniff out bread.
Ketkrókur - Meat Hook – Carries a large hook to grab hold of joints of meat.
Kertasníkir - Candle Beggar – Steals candles and eats them.
What do they look like? The Jólasveinarnir on this website have been specially drawn.
Some other versions can be found by following the links below. Some are quite scary, while others are more jovial – a bit like the modern Santa Claus figure found in modern Britain. In Iceland there is no Santa Claus, only the Jólasveinarnir – it is they alone who bring gifts at Christmas time. Some of them hang around until Twelfth Night (January 6th), so you can’t relax into bad-behaviour until the holiday is completely over!
Many different images of the Yule Lads can be found on this site:
Phew – that’s enough to be getting on with. Time to begin the game.