Sunday, 11 December 2016

Christmas Countdown, Traditions and Trivia Day Eleven

Hello Friends!

Today I am adding in another little twist to the Traditions and Trivia, but first here is the Advent picture and scripture for today ~~~

When I lived in Iceland I learned about their Christmas tradition of the Yuletide Lads or Swains. There is quite a lot to say about this, so now would be a good time to go and put the kettle on, make a cup of tea, and settle into your comfy arm chair to learn about the background of this tradition.

Unlike most other countries who celebrate Christmas with a single Father Christmas figure, Iceland does not.  Instead, they have the Yuletide Lads, each with a different trait or personality, who visit each house in the days running up to December 25th.  The Yuletide Lads are steeped in tradition and folklore and I will do my best to share some of this with you as a background to what will follow from tomorrow.

First, we have to understand that Christianity is a relatively new religion in Iceland, and a quite complicated issue which I will not address here. Briefly, it was adopted for political reasons in the year 1,000 but it took many more centuries to be fully practiced, so it follows that many pagan and pre~Christian traditions remain strongly rooted in today's culture.  As with many European countries, the Christian Christmas period begins on December 23 and ends on Epiphany {January 6} but the tradition of the Yuletide Lads starts on December 12 and finishes on January 6.

In bygone days, the Yuletide Lads were called Trolls and were very evil characters. Their numbers have varied over the years but today there are 13 of these now harmless fellows to contend with.  Their mother is an ogress by the name of Grýla and the earliest records of her appear in the thirteenth century work known as the Edda {Snorri Sturluson}.  Tales of the evil Grýla include that, somewhat as Father Christmas does, she knows who the naughty children are. That is the only similarity, for when Grýla senses a naughty child she comes down, out from her mountain home and devours the naughty child.  Naughty children are her favourite snack and this forms the basis of some very scary tales told to Icelandic children from an early age!  {it is possible that these frightening tales were told to prevent children from misbehaving and wandering away from the homesteads in what is a very dangerous and hostile land for a small child to become lost}.

To add to children's fear of Grýla and her sons prowling about in the landscape looking for naughty children to eat, her enormous black cat also stalked and ate children who did not receive clothing as part of their Christmas gifts! By 1746 children were so terrified that the Icelandic government intervened and put a ban on the tales being used as intimidation tactics and that is possibly when the Trolls became the Yuletide Lads and rather than devouring naught children the tradition with which I am most familiar came into being. This is the tradition I will be sharing with you each day between now and December 25th.

Without giving too much away, today there are thirteen Yuletide Lads, mischievous fellows who visit villages and homesteads across Iceland from December 12 to December 25. Each night brings a new Lad with a peculiar trait, sometimes playing tricks, and these will be revealed to you from tomorrow onwards. Icelandic children today place a shoe on their windowsill and, because the Lads all know how each child has behaved, on the following morning the shoes are filled with sweets and small gifts if the child has been good, or a potato or lump of coal if they have misbehaved. This is a much better, kinder way of treating children than threatening them with an evil ogress, don't you agree?

As each Lad arrives, they gather together and then when they are all here on December 25, the begin to depart, one each day in the order in which they arrived, back into their mountain home for another year.

I remember, fondly and with great amusement, a friend's child {when I lived in Iceland} turning the whole thing around on her poor, bemused mother who had placed a potato in the impish child's shoe; she got all excited, a beaming smile on her face as she exclaimed, "Look Mommy, a potato! I can have hash browns for breakfast!" ~~~

Because of my great love of Iceland, I will drop in some extra snippets about their other Christmas customs too ~~~ that is if you've been good, of course!

Until next time ~~~
~~~ Deborah xoxo


  1. Well, I know I have been proceed. lol

    Love and hugs,

    1. Are you sure you don't want hash browns? lol
      Love, Deb xoxo

  2. I love the child's response to Mommy--very creative little one! It's quite interesting that the government stepped in to stop the fear of mean Gryla.--Reminds me of the Grimm Fairy Tales. Not exactly child friendly. I'm looking forward to reading more about the lads. Thank you for sharing this unique tradition, Deb. xoxo ♥

    1. There isn't really anything you could say to such a clever child, is there?
      Fairy tales are very scary things indeed, and I'll be recommending a book on this in a future post.
      ~~~Deb xoxo


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