We are reminded that way, way back – even before Olde English became Olde – our early ancestors and those of the Icelanders could probably understand each other pretty well. “Yule” or “Yól” is one of the words we share even today.
But there are some things we don’t share – and that’s the folklore behind Santa Claus and the 13 Yule Lads.
Who? The Yule Lads. No, they’re not a teen music group. And yes, there are 13 of them and they arrive one by one starting on December 12. They stay for two weeks so the first one doesn’t leave town until Christmas.
During the time from the first one – Sheepfold Stick in English – to the last one – Candle Beggar – there is the potential for a great deal of mischief. Unlike the Jolly Old Elf, these guys are the sons of Icelandic trolls and there’s not a Saint among them. Sure, over the years they’ve mellowed out a lot but then again, they have a lot of folklorish baggage to overcome.
Sheepfold, for instance, will try to sneak into your sheep pen and steal ewes’ milk. Spoon-licker shows up on December 15 and spends the next couple of weeks looking for, uh, wooden spoons to lick. Door-Slammer starts his noisy escapades on the 18th. And they all have varied degrees of hang-ups, including Peeper – he looks in your window to see if you have cool toys. Candle-Beggar comes on Christmas Eve and his assignment, if you will, goes back to the days when it was a treat for a kid to get a candle for Christmas because they were a rare commodity. He just wants his own. Checked your electric bill lately? Want to join him?
The Yule Lads have a pet: the Christmas Cat. No, this is not the nice kitty who naps on the hearth rug. This is one mean cat who eats kids who aren’t wearing new wool clothes by Christmas.
Huh? Say again?
Turns out that everyone wanted to make sure that they had finished all of the harvest activities, including shearing and carding and all that weaving stuff so that they would be able to celebrate Christmas with the family. So, if you didn’t help out and you slacked off, you weren’t rewarded with a new wool cap or socks or whatever – and the Christmas Cat would gobble you up like a bowl of Meow Mix.
If you’re planning on spending the Christmas holidays in Iceland keep your eyes open for a bunch of Lads doing weird things and be sure to pack your new woolen mittens in case you run into a cat who’s looking at you suspiciously.