While they do have Father Christmas, his role harks back to earlier days and the gap-toothed, ruddy cheeked Yule Lads - the sons of a troll. There are 13 such fellows and consequently Icelandic children can expect a visit from one or all of them over a period of thirteen days prior to Christmas Eve.
During this time children place shoes on window sills, then wait with bated breath to see whether they are rewarded or punished. Depending on their behaviour throughout the year they could find a much-anticipated gift or some rotting potatoes in their footwear.
The Yule Lads’ father is a lazy troll, so it is up to his wife to do all the work. She probably heaves a sigh of relief when her sons take on their Christmas duties and relieve her of cooking and baking chores for a while. Part of the troll family is the Christmas Cat, who eats children who have not received new clothes for Christmas. Parents be warned buy your child an item of clothing!
The Lads themselves are not above a bit of theft. They help themselves to items such as skyr (a wonderful Icelandic yoghurt), liquor, and other treats from various households. In the process they peep through windows, slam doors, and generally make their presence known. They seem to focus most of their attention on rural areas perhaps because these people are more superstitious than city folk. Now, gather the family round (preferably with mince pies) so I can tell you what each Yule Lad specialises in. The first one, Sheep-cote Clod, arrives on December 12. He harasses sheep, but his task is made difficult by his stiff peg-legs.
The next day it is the turn of Gully Gawk, who waits in gullies, waiting for a chance to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. Stubby is incredibly short. He steals pans to eat the crust left on them. Spoon-Licker suffers from malnutrition and is painfully thin. He loves to steal long-handled wooden spoons to lick. Pot-Scraper specialises in the leftovers in pots. Bowl-Licker hides under beds waiting for someone to put down a special bowl with a lid.
Door-Slammer, delights in slamming doors, especially during the night.
Skyr-Gobbler just cannot resist skyr.
Sausage-Swiper hides in the rafters waiting to snatch a smoked sausage hanging there.
Window-Peeper snoops - peering through windows to see what can be stolen.
Doorway-Sniffer has an abnormally large nose (so his sense of smell is excellent) with which he sniffs out laufabrauð (the traditional Icelandic Christmas bread).
Meat-Hook uses a hook to steal meat.
Candle-Stealer follows children. He is after their tallow candles (in the days when people relied on candles rather than electricity) which are pretty tasty to eat. So there you have it what to expect between December 12 and 24. Merry Christmas.