Inspired by our adventures in Iceland, we discovered some mischievous, gruesome and charming Icelandic Christmas / Yule traditions, and picked out some of our favourites pieces to help you to celebrate them yourself, should you wish.
12 December welcomes the start of a curious Icelandic Christmas tradition; forget about just one Santa, Icelandic children are visited by thirteen. The jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, come down from their mountain, one every morning until Christmas, leaving presents in the shoes of the children. Depending on their behaviour the day before, the children might receive sweets, a small present, or rotting potatoes. Traditionally each lad would indulge in high jinks and perhaps petty crime, giving rise to his name; latterly, the lads have taken on a more kindly, benevolent role, akin to Father Christmas.
The first lad, Stekkjarstaur (Sheep-Cote Clod) arrives on the 12th December, staying until 25th, followed by one more lad each morning until Christmas finally arrives including Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), Stúfur (Stubby), Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker), Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper), Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker), Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer), Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler), Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper), Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper), Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer), Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook) and finally Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer) on Christmas Eve.
Other Icelandic Traditions
The Christmas Cat:
According to Old Icelandic folklore, every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas or they will find themselves in mortal danger. The cat himself is said to be a vicious beast, lurking in the snowy countryside waiting to devour any person not in possession of a new garment by Christmas Eve. Some think that farmers used this mythical beast as a means to get workers to finish processing the autumn wool, rewarding those who worked hard with new clothes, leaving the ones that didn't work hard enough to get eaten by the huge man-eating Christmas or Yuletide Cat.
Giving books on Christmas Eve:
Given the relationship between Icelanders and their beloved Icelandic Sagas it is no surprise that it is said that there are more books per head in Iceland than any other country in the world. A charming Christmas tradition of book giving on Christmas Eve is said to contribute to the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” when the majority of the year's books are sold.