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Traditions: The Icelandic Yule Lads

Iceland is a...unique country. It is a people who basically annoyed Denmark into giving them independence in 1918. The most famous restaurant is a hot dog stand. There is an app to make sure that the person you've got your eye on isn't related to you, which comes in handy because the entire population is less than 400,000 and naming conventions are such that sons' last names are their fathers' first name plus -son, and daughters are their their fathers' first name plus dóttir. Which gets confusing.

And then...there are the Yule Lads. These are not your Santa's Elves nor even your Seven Dwarfs. Nope. These thirteen hooligans begin to appear on December 12th, one each night up until Christmas Eve, and each stay for thirteen days. Why? BECAUSE ICELAND. Primarily their role is to bring presents to the good children and leave rotten potatoes for the naughty ones, and the threat of them was used to scare kids into behaving for their parents.

Did you think Sneezy, Dopey, Doc, Bashful, Happy, Grumpy, and Sleepy were silly names? Think again. Because these are the Yule Lads:

  • Sheep-Cote Clod

  • Gully Gwak

  • Stubby

  • Spoon Licker

  • Pot Scraper

  • Bowl Licker

  • Door Slammer

  • Skyr Gobbler (skyr is a Icelandic dish akin to yogurt)

  • Sausage Swiper

  • Window Peeper

  • Doorway Sniffer

  • Meat Hook

  • Candle Stealer

As the weather turns to freezing this evening, gather your kids around the fire and read them this bedtime story, Hallberg Hallmundsson's translation of Jóhannes úr Kötlum's 1932 poem Yule Lads. But do not be surprised if they jump up to hide the sausage right away!

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