Lads, or Jólasveinar, are thirteen imp-like creatures of the imagination that visit the children of Iceland every year around Christmas
time. They start coming on December 12, and one shows up every day until the last one arrives on Christmas Eve
. They then leave one by one until January 6th. The Yuletide Lads were originally malevolent imps way back when, but now they bring presents along with their mischief
. Their appearance has changed over the years as well: they now dress in red suits, not unlike Santa Claus
The Yuletide Lads are supposedly the children of two trolls named Grýla and Leppalúði that ate children. The Lads deliver gifts to good children who leave their shoes on a windowsill in their room. Bad children receive potatoes in their shoes.
Each of the Lads has a distinct personality, but each causes mischief. Parents will pretend that each of the Lads are in the house and will make mischief as if they were really there. Each also has a very large number of names that they go by. Here's a little description of each, complete with a translated Icelandic folk poem:
When this clumsy fellow entered the sheep-cot,
he gave the sheep no peace nor rest.
He was having such great fun
until the ram came up to check on the intruder
and went straight for the Lad,
butting Sheep-Cot Clod into the muck.
Sheep-Cot Clod, aka Enclosure Post, aka Gimpy, comes around and tries to drink the milk from any family animals. He's the first to arrive, and shows up on December 12.
Gully Gawk slid silently into the cowshed,
saw the bull and didn't want to come closer.
Looking into every corner he didn't see a soul
and thought he might try and get some milk.
He took hold of a teat, and milk ran into his palm,
but the cow was annoyed and gave him a kick.
Gully Gawk shows up next. He used to skim off the fresh milk gotten from the family animals, so today he doesn't do too much.
Poor Shorty kept his undivided attention
on the kitchen pans, coveting their contents.
On stubby legs he hovered near the larder,
Ingenious in finding ways to get near the roast.
Waiting in a corner where he was unseen,
for a chance to snatch a pan of juicy meat.
Shorty is also known as Itty Bitty or Pan Scraper. Children have to make sure that all of the house's pans are clean, or Shorty will steal all of the scraps of food that are left!
Ladle Licker lingered on the road,
long and thin he looks like a flagpole.
Hurrying in the dark he found a pot at once
and greedily started to lick the ladle.
But in his haste he forgot to take care,
and the hot ladle burnt his tongue.
The fourth Lad to arrive, Ladle Licker is also called Spoon Licker and Pot Scraper Licker. He will steal the wooden spoon that the family uses for cooking.
Pot Scraper had a nimble hand
with nice big pots of burnt-on food.
Snatching them out of the farm girls' hands
he scraped the pots with all his might.
And with many he spent so long,
he probably scraped a hole right through.
Pot Scraper comes to town on the 16th. Like Shorty, he'll steal all of the leftover food if the pots are not washed. As the poem suggests, he is very tenacious.
Bowl Licker arrived rather late
as people were sitting down to eat.
Nothing pleased him as much as when
fussy children didn't finish their food.
A leftover fan, Bowl Licker sneaked in
and thoroughly cleaned all the bowls.
Bowl Licker follows the tradition of Shorty and Pot Scraper. He will eat bowls of food left out for him, instead of stealing food from unwashed pots and pans.
Out of sight sat Door Slammer
always bent on teasing people,
Late at night this Lad took pleasure
in noisily disturbing people's sleep.
He slammed the doors hard enough
to frighten the dogs who fled upstairs.
Door Slammer is a fun one for the parents. The kids will be sleeping during the night, when all of a sudden they will hear a "WHAM!" Door Slammer has come to visit.
Skyr Gobbler was greedy for good food
and often sat on the roof beam in the larder.
When the door to the larder closed
he stole down and had himself some skyr.
Some of it of course landed on his clothes
and his beard became all spotted with the stuff.
Skyr Gobbler, aka Curd Glutton, is a big fan of skyr, a type of yogurt in Iceland. He'll eat all of the skyr that is currently in the house when he comes to visit on the 19th.
Always hungry, Sausage Swiper
didn't take long to find a farm.
His specialty was to spot
a string of sausages on a nail.
Visiting as many farms as he could,
he stole sausages everywhere.
Next up is Sausage Swiper, who eats all of the family's sausage. Kids begin to wonder if there will be enough food left for Christmas Eve dinner.
Window Peeper was a very curious fellow
he visited most farms and took a look inside.
Lying at the windows he made faces at people,
and if somebody saw him he just gave a laugh.
The children fled in haste to escape the sight,
for he really had an ugly face.
Window Peeper does just that: he peeps in windows and watches the children during the night. He will also steal the children's toys if he's feeling especially mischeivous.
Door Sniffer's nose stood him in good stead
he used it to find all kinds of things.
While still up in the mountains he could smell
the quickest way to find some food.
And out of the drifting snow he would appear,
sticking his noes into every door ajar.
Door Sniffer sniffs around for tasty holiday treats like cakes and cookies. Parents will take whatever goodies they've been making and hide them, meaning that the rascally Door Sniffer has struck again.
Meat Hook was a fancier of mutton well-smoked.
Sitting by the chimney top when darkness fell,
he looked down the chimney, and if he saw meat
deftly sent his hook down for his favorite meal.
The people on the farm gave a hue and cry
seeing their Christmas dinner flying away.
Meat Hook steals the dinner (traditionally mutton) for the night through the chimney. Since most families don't cook in the fireplace now, Meat Hook tends to be even more creative.
Candle Beggar loved candlelight
and stole into the farmhouse for a look.
Feasting his eyes on the Christmas candles
and the children carrying them to and fro,
He hid in a corner where nobody saw him
and then snatched a candle for himself.
Candle Beggar shows up on Christmas Eve and takes candles away, leaving everyone in the dark. When Candle Beggar's work is finished, the Lads will stop their mischief and begin leaving the house. Just like they do for Santa Claus, kids anxiously await the return of the Yuletime Lads.