The Icelanders prepare for Christmas in
various ways. In most homes the preparations start by the end of
November and go on until Christmas arrives. On Christmas Eve, the
church bells of the country chime at the same time, or "ring in" the
festive season; many attend the services, and the first Christmas meal is eaten.
This is also the time, when Christmas presents are openend.
There is a long traditions in Iceland for all sorts of
baking, cleaning and various decorations, and many house
wives or husbands prepare numerous dishes, which have
traditionally been on the Christmas table for centuries.
"Laufabraud" (thin, crisp, disk shaped wheat
bread, "Hangikjot", smoked and pickled lamb,
is a must in every home and many take great pain in preparing it in their own traditional way.
Then there is the cured ray (skate) with melted suet, which is on the
dinner table on the 23rd of December (Mass of the only
patron saint of Iceland, the Holy Bishop Thorlakur).
The Christmas festivities last for thirteen
days. During Advent, children are traditionally given some trifle
in a shue they place on the window sill in their bedroom. This
begins when the first of the Yuletide lads arrives in the inhabited
areas on December 12th.
Christmas is rather a serious time in
Iceland compared to many other countries, i.e. in Southern Europe.
Charasteristical are the numerous family gatherings all over the
country. Then "tables sway" with delicacies prepared for the
season. It is not uncommon for people to attend two or even three
such gatherings day after day.
Although there are many traditions in
Iceland, the Christmas lads (13) and their ugly, ogress like mother, Gryla,
and her husband, the weakling Leppaludi, are what fascinates most of our visitors. Gryla
surpasses her husband. She puts badly behaved children in her sack
and takes them with her to the mountains. Leppaludi, her husband,
is really a henpecked weakling. Badly behaved children, who escape
her sack, become the victims of the "Christmas Cat", i.e. do not receive
The Yuletide Garden
Sletta, 601 Akureyri
Open the whole year round.
YULETIDE LADS AND THEIR PARENTS
Old sources do not
agree on the total number of Yuletide lads in Iceland and vary between
the different parts of the country.
Some refer to 13 others to 9.
According to common practices nowadays, their number is 13.
They are the sons of the ogress Gryla and her subservient
husband Leppaludi. Badly behaved children were threatened
with the ugly Gryla, and were told, she would come and take them away
and cook them for dinner. This
large family is supposed to live in a cave somewhere in the mountains
and keeps quiet until Christmas approaches.
Then the Yuletide lads start appearing one by one, the first one
13 days before Christmas.
Their behaviour is unusual to say the least and they
are all dressed in old-fashioned cloths or rags and their names
originate in the old society of farmers and country folks.
They do not wear the clean red and white attire of Santa Claus.
The first one to
arrive in civilized areas is
COT DOLT, (STEKKJASTAUR 12
December) who heads
directly for the sheep cot to have fun with disturbing the sheep.
The second one to arrive is
GAWK, (GILJAGAUR 13
December) who rushes for the
cowshed to try to get some milk. The third one to
(STÚFUR 14 December) who is extremely attracted to the contents of the kitchens, and does not
miss a chance to
snatch something to eat.
The forth one to arrive is
who is very lean.
He concentrates on finding pots with something well tasting and
licks the ladles. The fifth
one to arrive is
CLEANER, (POTTASLEIKIR 16
December) who consumes the
burnt layers of food from the pots and leaves them shining clean.
The sixth one to arrive is
BOWL LICKER, (FALDAFEYKIR
17 December) who always
arrives late enough to get to the food rests left by the children and
finish the food from their bowls. The
seventh one to arrive is
SLAMMER, (HURÐASKELLIR 18
December) who hides in dark
corners and waits for the opportunity to tease the people at the
and slams the doors during the night to wake everybody up.
The eighth one to arrive is
December) who thinks of
nothing but gourmet food and steals skyr from the larders, whenever
gets the opportunity. The
ninth one to arrive is
PICKER, (BJÚGNAKRÆKIR 20
December) who raids the
larders, because of his constant hunger, and prefers the well-
sausages. The tenth one to
TOM, (GLUGGAGÆGIR 21
December) who is extremely
curious. He makes faces at
the windows scare the children, who
run and hide, but the grown ups only laugh. The eleventh one to arrive is
SNIFFER, (GÁTTAÞEFUR 22
who uses his
sensitive nose to find all kinds of things, especially food, standing
in doorways of houses. The
twelfth one to arrive is
HOOK, (KJÖTKRÓKUR 23
December) who likes smoked
lamb very much, spares no effort to hook a leg of lamb from the
through the chimney. The
last one to arrive is
BEGGAR, (KERTASNÍKIR 24
December) who fancies candle
lights and never gets enough candles for himself
although he snatches
quite a few from the children.
after they have all gathered in the inhabited areas and entertained
people, they start back to their parents one by one until the 6th
of January, when the Icelanders celebrate by bonfires and fireworks the
end of Christmas and the time of year, when the elves move house and
travel about in their colourful attire on horseback.
New year’s eve is also celebrated with much ado, large bonfires and hours of fireworks
until the wee hours of the morning.