Unlike the rather syrupy creation of Father Christmas which we now have in the West, Icelanders have a rather more rounded set of characters to accompany their Christmas celebrations. These spirited creations are called the Yule Lads, thirteen mischievous troll children, who, like a dark version of Snow White’s seven dwarves, each have a different attribute and name to accompany them. All of them are pranksters, as one can see on their names:
- Stekkjastaur– Sheep-Cote Clod
- Giljagaur – Gully Gawk
- Stúfur – Stubby
- Þvörusleikir – Spoon Licker
- Pottaskefill – Pot Scraper
- Askasleikir – Bowl Licker
- Hurðaskellir – Door Slammer (he loves waking people up by slamming doors)
- Skyrgámur – Skyr Gobbler
- Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage Swiper
- Gluggagægir – Window Peeper
- Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer
- Ketkrókur – Meat Hook
- Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar
In the thirteen days preceding Christmas, children leave their shoes out and receive an offering of some sort from each of the different Yule Lads. Well-behaved children receive a present, but those who’ve misbehaved get a rotten potato.
Though sadly now being fast eroded to something more resembling the red and white Santa figure used elsewhere, traditionally, they wore simple browns and greys. Their home is said to be Dimmuborgir near Lake Mývatn, and over the Christmas period, children can go and visit them there or take a dip with them at Mývatn Nature Baths.
In addition to the Yule Lads, their mother (a well-known child-eating troll named Grýla) has a pet cat, which is said to prowl around eating people who don’t receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas. The Yule Lads live in a cave in Dimmu Borgir at Lake Mývatn and are rarely be seen walking around in summer time. In November and December it is a different story and then there is a good chance to run into this mischievous Yule Lads at the Dimmu Borgir lava formation. Once per year one even has the chance to take a bath together with them at Mývatn Nature Bath.