Jolasveinar, or Yulemen, or Christmas boys are figures from Icelandic folklore who in modern times have become the Icelandic version of Santa Claus. Their number has varied throughout the ages, but currently is thirteen. They put rewards or punishments into shoes placed by children on window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve. Every night, one Yuletide lad visits each child, leaving gifts for good children or rotting potatoes for bad children.
In 1932 the poem "Jólasveinarnir" was published as a part of the
popular poetry book "Christmas Arrives" by Icelandic poet Jóhannes
úr Kötlum. The poem reintroduced Icelandic society to Icelandic
Yuletide folklore and established what is now considered the
thirteen Yule Lads, their personalities, and connection to other
The Icelandic Santas first appeared in the 17th century as the sons
of two trolls. Gryla and Leppaludi are frightening creatures, and
have a reputation for stealing and eating naughty children. Grýla is
a dreadful character, described as part troll, part animal, and the
mother of 13 precocious boys (the Yule Lads). Grýla lives in the
mountains with her third husband, Leppaludi, her thirteen children,
and a black cat. Every Christmas, Grýla and her sons come down from
the mountains: Grýla in search of naughty children to boil in her
cauldron and the boys in search of mischief. She can only capture
children who misbehave, but those who repent must be released.
The first Jolasveinar arrives Dec 12 and leaves Dec 25, the second
arrives Dec 13 and leaves Dec 26, etc. Below are the names and
mischief they cause. They sound like a fun bunch.
Sheep-Cote Clod - Harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff
Gully Gawk - Hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak
into the cowshed and steal milk.
Stubby, abnormally short - Steals pans to eat the crust left on
Spoon-Licker - Steals spoons to lick and is extremely thin due to
Pot-Scraper - Steals leftovers from pots.
Bowl-Licker - Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their
bowl, which he then steals.
Door-Slammer - Likes to slam doors, especially during the night.
Skyr-Gobbler - A Yule Lad who loves skyr (like yogurt).
Sausage-Swiper - Hides in the rafters and snatches sausages that are
Window-Peeper - A voyeur who looks through windows in search of
things to steal.
Doorway-Sniffer - Has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of
smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð (Christmas bread).
Meat-Hook - Uses a hook to steal meat.
Candle-Stealer - Follows children in order to steal their candles,
which are made of tallow and thus edible.