research

Iceland’s Yule Trolls

In Icelandic tradition, the Yule lads are thirteen trolls who arrive, one one each of the 13 days before Christmas then depart in the order they arrived, on the subsequent days following Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, the troll witch Gryla, leaves the mountains to enter the city, seeking any children who had been ill-behaved or were without the protection of their parents. These she would take back to her mountain dwelling, cook them into a stew for her lazy troll husband.


The thirteen Icelandic Yule Lads are names for the acts they are most famously known for, often tormenting human communities. More can be found at the Smithsonian Magazine here.

Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds
Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk
Stubby: He’s short and steals food from frying pans
Spoon Licker: He licks spoons
Pot Scraper: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean
Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed (back in the old days, Icelanders used to sometimes store bowls of food there – convenient for midnight snacking?)
Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake
Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)
Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages
Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside
Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods
Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb

Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland


Since 1746, the Yule lads became less scary, depicted as mischievous, trickster characters illustrated as jolly ‘Santa Claus-like figures’ who left gifts for the well-behaved children in their shoes and potatoes for the ill-behaved ones. In earlier times, the Yule lads were emaciated and clothed in rags. There is a current movement in Iceland to return the Yule lads to their more traditional vagabond nature, the desperate orphans who accompanied Gryla.