The Yule Lads: Friends or Foes?


There is something undeniably terrifying about the Yule Lads. Growing up, even though I was raised to generally live under the impression that these were stand-up guys who gave me gifts, they still sort of scared me.

In Iceland we don’t believe in Santa so I grew up with the belief that 13 days before Christmas, troll descendents began to prowl through town and sneak gifts into shoes children put in their window. Banal, I know, but no more crazy than one fat guy in a suit flying across the world with presents.

I always put my fanciest shoe in the window to appease the Yule Lads (I didn’t want them thinking I was too poor to get nice new things and spreading that to “The Christmas Cat,” who has a reputation of eating children who don’t get new clothes for Christmas).

I spent my childhood holidays tackling the crippling fear that I’d leave my house one cold Christmas morning only to see a giant black cat crouched on the street ready to murderously pounce on me as I made my way to the corner shop to buy more Ora baunir for my mamma’s white Christmas sauce.

Outside the Christmas Cat I think the biggest Yule Lad fear factor was that they could get into my house. “That’s right,” my brother would tell me. “They just sneak right into the house and cause havoc by sniffing doorways and eating our skyr.” Eyes wide in horror I’d tossed back my pig-tailed head in shock, “Not the skyr!”

I didn’t worry so much about Stiff Legs, the first of the Yule Lads, because he liked to hang out in sheep houses and harass the sheep (which really… is a little disturbing in it’s own right) or Gully Gawk, who liked the froth of cow’s milk and lurked in barns.

I reckoned the kids living out on farms could deal with them. “No sheep or cows here!” I’d half shout in a nonchalant tone to no one in particular, praying Stiff Legs and Gully Gawk would hear my banter from outside the window.

It was the Yule Lads like Door Slammer, Spoon Licker and Window Peeper who really got me.

With a sadistic sense of fun sometimes on the 18th of December (which is the day Door Slammer arrives) my brother would slam doors when I passed by, causing me to shriek a horrified 8-year-old little girl scream.

I’d ask if he’d done it and he’d tell me that he’d found Door Slammer to be the culprit and since I believed him to be real I’d then run to my room petrified and hide under my duvet with a flashlight and the cat.

Spoon Licker used to make me uncomfortable too; he was a birthplace of future neurosis. Once I knew he’d been in town I’d walk into the kitchen to find a few spoon sprawled across the counter and rather than suspect another ruse doctored by my treacherous brother I would assume Spoon Licker had been rifling through the drawers looking for a ladle to lick.

I’d just look at the spoons and scowl; did I dare use the spoons for my morning cereal? I’d ask myself: What if he licked this spoon? What if he licked all the spoons? How many times will I need to wash this spoon before the troll drool comes off? Does he only lick the dirty spoons or does he also lick the clean ones? What if this spoon was dirty and he licked it and put it back into the clean spoon drawer to throw me off? And so on it went until I just gave up and ate toast instead.

Window Peeper also caused a number of neuroses. Once he arrived in town I’d be so cautious not to do anything he could call me up on. I couldn’t steal candy canes off the tree when my mother had forbidden it.

I couldn’t shake the packages under the tree and first and foremost I’d always change my clothes in the dank and creepy basement hallway where there were no windows around for the old pervert to peek at me.

Don’t even get me started on Meat Hook… somehow these charismatic odd balls were a source of great distress for me in my childhood years.

Now I know, I should have been glad, instead of one night of presents from Santa I got 13 days of waking up to gifts, but at what expense? My emotional wellbeing as a child?

Then I suppose whether they are friends or foes is a matter of taste, I like to think of them as that friend you have that you don’t quite know where to place. A friend who you like, does nice things for you but similarly the friend who has dubious habits that you don’t exactly approve of.

NÁ – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.