My favorite souvenir from Iceland, besides this picture of me at Lake My’Vatn with the Bardabunga Volcano erupting in the background, is a little thing called a Jólasveinar – a Yule Lad.
The Jólasveinars, or Yule lads, are among the many mystical creatures that inhabit Iceland. About half of the 360,000 people who live on the island believe in the existence of “hidden people,” such as elves, trolls and Yule lads. Seriously.
Throughout much of the year, the 13 Yule lads live in their mountain home of Dimmuborgir near Lake My’Vatn. They are the children of a mean troll couple named Gryla and Leppaludi.
They don’t cause anyone much trouble most of the year. In fact, on the night of the summer solstice each year, the Yule lads invite visitors to their cave at Dimmuborgir for an evening of games and mischief. It’s a great time to visit Iceland and learn of their folklore.
Visiting the Yule Lads of Iceland
Although it was not a midsummer night when my colleagues and I visited Dimmuborgir, we still walked along the trail, looking behind rocks and in the cave in hopes of encountering one of these hidden people. Alas, none surfaced.
But I loved their story and their names. Because they were born to mean, ugly trolls, the Yule lads are named for the mischievous tricks they play on those who are naughty. Door Slammer and Sausage Pilferer. Window Peeper and Curd Chutton. I don’t know what a Curd Chutton is, but I’m sure it’s not a good thing to be.
Bowl Licker and Spoon Licker are my favorites. I have no problem believing in mystical creatures who prefer to lick to cake batter from a bowl and spoon!
Christmas Traditions in Iceland
During the holiday season, the children of Iceland and others who believe in these hidden creatures leave an empty shoe by the window each night in hopes that the Yule lads will leave treats. If the children have been bad, not only will their doors mysteriously slam or their sausage disappear, a potato will fill the empty shoe in the morning.
I purchased a replica of the Yule lad known as Candle Begger. I suppose if I am naughty, he will snuff out my candle, but so far, he has simply adorned the cabinet in my living room along with other Christmas decorations, causing no trouble at all.
I wanted to buy the entire set of 13 Yule lads, along with the accompanying Yule cat, but not only would my credit card freak out, my luggage would not accommodate the purchase. Yet another reason to return to Iceland very soon.