Yule Lads and Other Cultural Souvenirs of Iceland

Iceland with volcano erupting

Photo courtesy of Saga Travel

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.

That is one of many things I learned to love about Iceland during my first visit. Bread baked underground is another, but I digress.

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Books About the Yule Lads of Iceland



Where to See the Yule Lads of Iceland

Dimmuborgir Iceland, home of Yule Lads

This is the area near Dimmuborgir where the Yule lads live most of the year.

Throughout much of the year, the 13 Yule lads live in their mountain home of Dimmuborgir near Lake My’Vatn. (I’m told some scenes from Games of Thrones, Season 2 were shot in this area).

Yule lads are the children of a mean troll couple named Gryla and Leppaludi. Apparently all of their children were boys because there are no Yule lasses in this story. Or only Yule lads create trouble. Is there gender bias happening among these mystical creatures?

Either way, Yule lads apparently 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.

Lake My'Vatn Iceland, home of Yule LadsAlthough 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 or icing from a bowl and spoon!


Christmas Traditions in Iceland

Iceland's Yule Lad, my favorite souvenir from Iceland

My little Yule Lad, “Candle Begger,” at home in Kansas City.

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. Is that better than a lump of coal?

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.

Another adorable Christmas tradition in Iceland is giving books on Christmas Eve. Everyone exchanges books then spends the night reading. That’s so hygge.

It would have been fabulous 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.

Plus, my friend Rich learned about an Elf School in Reykjavik, so he’s doing that. And IcelandAir now offers direct flights from Kansas City once a week in the summer months. Oh, ya, gotta get back to Iceland.

Be Prepared for Your Trip to Iceland