Celebrating Christmas With 13 Yule Lads

The Icelandic Christmas period is an intriguing mixture of religious practice and traditional folklore, beginning on 23 Decemberand ending on Epiphany, 6 January. As many countries do, Iceland celebrates Chrismas mostly with good food and gifts to loved ones, but unlike most countries that have a single Father Christmas / Santa Claus character, Icelandic children are fortunate enough to be visited by 13 Yule Lads. Other Christmas stories are rather bleak in nature, perhaps reflecting the harshness of winter and the isolation of the community in previous centuries.

Grýla

From a relatively young age Icelandic children are told the story of Grýla, the ogress living in the Icelandic mountains. She is a dreadful character, described as part troll and part animal and the mother of 13 precocious boys (the Yule Lads). Grýla lives in the mountains with her third husband, her thirteen children and a black cat. Every Christmas, Grýla and her sons come down from the mountains: Grýla in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron and the boys in search of mischief. She can only capture children who misbehave but those who repent must be released.

The Yule Lads

Icelandic children place a shoe in their bedroom window each evening in the 13 days before Christmas. Every night one Yuletide lad visits, leaving sweets and small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how that particular child has behaved on the preceding day. Each Yuletide lad has a specific idiosyncrasy and will therefore behave in a particular manner.

The Christmas Cat

Old Icelandic folklore states that every Icelander must receive a new piece of clothing for Christmas or they will find themselves in mortal danger. An enormous black cat prowls Iceland on Christmas Eve and eats anyone who doesn’t follow this simple rule. This obnoxious feline is know as the Christmas Cat.

Kleinur – recipe

Icelandic kleinur are a popular pastry, sold in most bakeries and grocery stores. The plain pastry is a popular accompaniment with a cup of coffee, or a tall glass of cold milk, and enjoyed by people of all ages.

Here’s a classic recipe for kleinur from Svarfaðardalur valley, North Iceland.

600 g flour

200 g sugar

180 g butter

4 heaping teaspoons baking powder

3 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup Icelandic sour milk (or plain yoghurt)

Cardamom spice drops

Mix flour and sugar in a bowl, add the baking powder. Crumble the butter into the bowl and add the eggs, milk and a few drops of cardamom spice drops. Add the sour milk and knead the dough. Form the kleinur and fry them in deep frying oil.

Iceland

Iceland, a Nordic island nation, is defined by its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs and lava fields. Massive glaciers are protected in Vatnajökull and Snæfellsjökull national parks. Most of the population lives in the capital, Reykjavik, which runs on geothermal power and is home to the National and Saga museums, tracing Iceland’s Viking history.

 

 

CapitalReykjavik

Population338,349 (2017) Eurostat

CurrencyIcelandic króna

Ethnic groups (2017)91% Icelandic; 4% Polish; 5% other

DestinationsReykjavikÞingvellirJökulsárlónVík í Mýrdal,