Much has been written about the scary Icelandic Santas on these pages, the 13 ogre brothers known as jólasveinar, or Yule Lads (sometimes Yuletide Lads) in English.
They come down from the mountains 13 nights before Christmas to steal food from pantries and play pranks on people and, nowadays, also leave presents behind in children’s shoes.
They are the offspring of horrid ogress Grýla, who knows nothing more delicious than naughty children, and her lazy excuse of a husband Leppalúdi.
The family lives in a cave in an unspecified location in the highlands along with the Christmas Cat, their dreaded pet, which preys on poor children who don’t get any new clothes before the holidays.
These characters reached nationwide fame and popularity after Jóhannes úr Kötlum (1899-1972) composed the beloved prose Jólasveinar in 1932, which is known as The Ballad of the Yuletide Lads in the translation of Hallberg Hallmundsson.
They are (in the order in which they come to town):
Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Cote Clod Giljagaur – Gully Gawk Stúfur – Stubby Thvörusleikir – Spoon Licker Pottaskefill – Pot Scraper Askasleikir – Bowl Licker Hurdaskellir– Door Slammer (my favorite) Skyrjarmur – Skyr Gobbler Bjúgnakraekir – Sausage Swiper Gluggagaegir – Window Peeper Gáttathefur – Door Sniffer Ketkrókur – Meat Hook Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar
Candle Beggar, the last of the Yule Lads, came to town last night and now all of them are preparing to return to the mountains.
The 13 brothers might very well be on the verge of world fame—a reader told me they have started visiting children in the US—or are at least well known to regular readers of Iceland Review Online. (If you'd like to learn more about them, read Nanna's column tomorrow.)
However, not even dedicated Yule Lads enthusiasts may be aware that Jóhannes úr Kötlum left out a heap of ogre brothers and sisters when picking the stars of his prose from often locally-based legends about these dreaded visitors.
An enlightening article in Fréttabladid states that around 80 names of Yule brothers and sisters have been found in folktales and poems dating back centuries in time. They were compiled by folklorist Árni Björnsson. The article covers a few of these left-out lads and lasses, including the following:
Lungnaslettir (Lung Splatter). According to legend, this particular Yule Lad carried his lungs on the front of his chest and tried to beat children with them. He came from Snaefjallaströnd in the northern West Fjords.
Reykjarsvelgur (Smoke Gulper). He used to sit on top of the ridges of houses, gulp the smoke from when hangikjöt (smoked lamb) was smoked, and blow it into the faces of people. He haunted the Bardastrandasýslur counties in the southern West Fjords.
Laekjarraesir (Spring Drainer). This funny chap was into blocking springs and playing around during thaw to somehow make life harder for people.
The first tried to put a smidge of fat on unfinished hand-knitted socks and the latter to stuff her nostril with fat. These Westfjordians sure were imaginative...
The brothers Lampaskuggi (Lamp Shadow) and Bandaleysir (Knot Loosener) were a menace too; the first enjoyed putting out all the lights and casting farms in darkness and the latter loosened all knots on important ropes.
Faldafeykir (Skirt Sweeper) almost made it to the list and is among the better known additional lads. He enjoyed blowing hats off women’s heads and rustling their skirts and being disrespectful of all moral guidelines.
According to ethnologist Jón Jónsson, the names of the 13 Yule Lads were more or less fixed after the folk stories of Jón Árnason (Iceland’s equal to the Brothers Grimm) were first published in 1862.
However, while Árnason included Faldafeykir, Jóhannes úr Kötlum “made him unemployed” and dumped him for Door Slammer.
The prose Jólasveinar by Jóhannes úr Kötlum is based on poems from the Dalir region in west Iceland where he came from and the rest is history; his Yule Lads won the nation over.
The legend surrounding other Yule Lads and Lasses is not as clear and their names don’t always indicate their purposes. These include:
Klettaskora – (f; a word used for a rift in cliffs). Guttormur – (m; a man’s name meaning “the one protected by god” or (not as dignified) “godly worm” and it’s also the name of a famous bull at the Reykjavík Zoo and Family Park). Litlipungur – (m; literally: “small balls”). Flórsleikir – (m; literally “dung channel licker”, as in a cowshed—yuck!) Modbingur – (m; something like “leftover heap”). Baggalútur – (m; this word can either mean “small boy” or “round rock”, and, incidentally, it’s also the name of a band). Thorlákur (m; this is actually a man’s name and the name of St. Thorlákur, the bishop whose mass it is on December 23). Tígull – (m; this word means “diamond” as in cards). Hlödustrangi – (m; the translation could be something like “barn bundle”). Kleinusníkir – (m; finally one that makes sense… kleina are twisted Icelandic doughnuts, really yummy, and this fellow would be “kleina beggar”).
On the off chance that the forgotten Yule Lads and Lasses are going global: ladies, watch out for Faldafeykir or you skirts might blow up Marilyn Monroe style, and gents, beware of Flotnös in case she tries to steal a kiss with her fat-smeared face!
Wherever you are in the world, I wish you happy holidays, or gledilega hátíd as we say around these parts.
Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir – firstname.lastname@example.org