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Icelandic Yule lads and Icelandic Christmas Tradition

The Icelandic Yule lads are quite different from the cute, chubby, white bearded red-dressed Santa Claus who all the children of the world know. The story of the Icelandic Yule lads comes from Icelandic folklore. It’s always been a debate on their number. In one poem about them it says; “einn og átta” one and eight =9, other say one and eight =18, but today they are considered to be 13. The lads visit Icelandic children during the night, starting 13 nights before Christmas. The children put one shoe in the window before they go to sleep and if they have been nice, they get a little treat. However, for those who have been naughty a rotten potato will be waiting in the shoe when they wake up. The first Yule lad to come down from the highlands is Stekkjastaur, Sheep-Cote Clod, he harasses sheep but is impaired by his stiff legs. At Arcanum Glacier tours, we like to say that the Yule lads and Grýla come down from the highlands over Mýrdalsjökull and anyone taking a snowmobile tour or a glacier walk with us during their arrival might be lucky and see them. :)

See a complete list with the Yule Lad names at the end of this blog.

The Yule lads mother is Grýla, she is a troll, another Icelandic folklore, and lives in the mountains with her husband Leppalúði. Grýla’s name was used in the old days to scare children which had been naughty, they were told that Grýla would come and take them away in her big bag, which usually was full of naughty children. There are many poems about Grýla to be found in Icelandic folklore.

The Christmas Cat is another Icelandic folklore. He lives with Grýla and Leppalúði up in the mountains. He is mean and a very bad cat and his main activity is to eat children who do not get a new garment before the holidays. However, a new pair of socks, underwear or pajamas is enough to keep him away.

BJÖRK sings the Christmas Cat song.

Traditional Icelandic Christmas food

Hangikjöt - Smoked lamb is probably the most served dish in Iceland during the Christmas season. The meat is placed in a skillett covered with water and left to simmer until ready. Boiled potatoes, green peas and Bechamel sauce are served with the meat. Some people like to serve Laufabrauð with the meal as well. Laufabrauð can be bought in the supermarkets. Frying laufabrauð is also a family undertaking where young and old get together, either making the dough from scratch or decorating ready bought dough, making different patterns. This activity has become an essential part of the Christmas preparations in Iceland. Here you can view a short video of laufabrauð in making.

Rjúpa – Ptarmigan is another Christmas dish, popular with some locals. Ptarmigans can not be bought in stores, you have to either go and shoot them yourself, which is only allowed for a short period every year, or rely on someone who does, for a few fowls. The meat of this bird has a rather strong taste, not everyone like it.

Möndlugrautur – Rice pudding. Making this dish to serve on Christmas Eve has been a long time tradition. When the pudding is ready one almond is put in the bowl. The one who gets the almond wins a price. Once upon a time the pudding was served as a starter of the meal, but today with all the food in abundance, it’s usually either eaten at lunchtime or as a dessert.

We at Arcanum Glacier send our best season greetings to all our friends and customers and wish you a very merry and prosperous new year.

Complete list with the Yule Lad names:

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