Hotel Rangá staff members and children from the school in Hella pose with Christmas bags and games that were donated to the school.

All About Iceland’s Yule Lads

Let me tell the story of the lads of few charms, who once upon a time used to visit our farms. They were called the Yuletide lads – at Yuletide they were due – and always came one by one, not ever two by two.

So begins the story of Iceland’s Yule Lads – a poem by Jóhannes úr Kötlum in Hallberg Hallmundsson’s translation. While Icelandic folklore holds the names of dozens of Yule Lads, the thirteen mentioned in Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s poem are the ones usually referred to as the Icelandic Santa Clauses. They’re a mischievous lot, born to a troll mother who eats ill-behaved children. They also associate with the Yule Cat, who feasts on children who don’t get new clothes for Christmas.

Brian Pilkington drawing of the Icelandic Yule lads.
Brian Pilkington drawing of the Icelandic Yule Lads.

A New Take on the Yule Lads

The stories of the Yule Lads used to be seen as a good tool to scare kids into obedience. However, in recent years they have taken on a new role. The Yule Lads come down from the mountains, one by one from the 11th to the 24th of December. They sometimes play a few silly tricks but also bring presents to children who leave a shoe on their windowsill.

While the gifts are usually small items or candy, they have been known to drop more expensive items into certain shoes. This has prompted concerned Icelanders to reach out via social media and remind the Yule Lads that such gifts should come from parents, so that the friendly trolls treat all kids equally.

Christmas bag from the Icelandic Yule Lads being hung on a door at Hotel Rangá.
A special Christmas bag made by local schoolchildren in Hella. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir

The Yule Lads at Hotel Rangá

Did you know that Iceland’s Yule Lads have been known to pay a visit to Hotel Rangá? Yes, it is true – between December 11th and December 24th we encourage guests big and small to leave a shoe outside their door. In return, the Yule Lads bring our guests a present in a unique handmade bag. In fact, there is a special story behind these lovely bags.

Hotel Rangá staff members and children from the school in Hella pose with Christmas bags and games that were donated to the school.
Hotel Rangá has had an ongoing collaboration with the school in Hella for over 10 years. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

Working Together: Sustainable Santa Clauses

Every year, Hotel Rangá partners with a local school to make the Yule Lads’ job a little easier. Children in Icelandic schools are able to study various electives including knitting, cooking and sewing. Hotel Rangá donates old linens, sewing machines, card games and other helpful items to the school. In return, the children sew these special Christmas bags as part of their studies.

We are very proud of our partnership with the school which has been ongoing for over a decade. It is our goal to implement green hotel policies and be as sustainable as possible. This project not only re-purposes old materials to create something new but benefits the local community. What’s more, our guests are able to keep these bags as a special Christmas souvenir – something they can treasure and use to remember their trip to Iceland.

 

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The First Yule Lad: Sheep-Cote Clod

Stekkjastaur, or Sheep-Cote Clod, comes on the night before December 12th. He is known for trying to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds. This mischievous lad is also known for having two wooden feet!

The Second Yule Lad: Gully Gawk

Giljagaur, or Gully Gawk, arrives on the night before December 13th. This merry prankster is said hide in farmers’ barns and steal foam from buckets of cow milk.

Two middle school girls at the school in Hella, Iceland work on making special Christmas bags that are given to Hotel Rangá guests.
Girls make special Christmas Bags to help out the Icelandic Yule Lads. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

The Third Yule Lad: Stubby

Stúfur, or Stubby, is many children’s favorite. He plays his tricks the night before December 14th. Stubby is extremely short and hides out in the kitchen. He sneaks around and steals leftover bits of food from pans.

The Fourth Yule Lad: Spoon Licker

Þvörusleikir, or Spoon Licker, arrives on the night before December 15th. This fellow is extremely tall, thin and hungry. He creeps around the house looking for unwashed spoons to lick. 

Lit up Yule Cat in Reykjavík.
Wear a new Christmas outfit or else the Yule Cat will come for you!

The Fifth Yule Lad: Pot Scraper

Pottaskefill, or Pot Scraper, is another yule lad who heads straight for the kitchen. He steals, scrapes and licks unwashed pots on the night before December 16th, trying to get at any food left inside. At least it is less work for whoever is cleaning the kitchen!

The Sixth Yule Lad: Bowl Licker

Askasleikir, or Bowl Licker, comes on the night before December 17th. It seems that many of these lads are quite greedy! Bowl Licker also searches the kitchen for unwashed bowls and licks them clean.

Boy at the school in Hella, Iceland uses a sewing machine to sew a special Christmas bag given to guests at Hotel Rangá.
Student in Hella school sews special Christmas bags for Hotel Rangá. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

The Seventh Yule Lad: Door Slammer

On the night before December 18th, the loudest yule lad comes for a visit. Hurðaskellir, or Door Slammer, tiptoes around the house searching for open doors, only to slam them shut. So if you hear a noise in the night, it might be him!

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The Eighth Yule Lad: Skyr Gobbler

On the night before December 19th another hungry lad pays a visit. Skyrgámur, or Skyr Gobbler, loves to steal Icelandic skyr – a delicious, yogurt-like food. We can’t blame him, skyr is certainly delicious!

Two middle school boys crochet drawstrings for special Christmas bags that are given to Hotel Rangá guests.
Students working together to make beautiful Christmas bags and help out the Icelandic Yule Lads. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

The Ninth Yule Lad: Sausage Swiper

Bjúgnakrækir, or Sausage Swiper, stakes his claim in the rafters. There, he hunts for sausages being smoked and gobbles them down. This sneaky fellow visits on the night before December 20th.

The Tenth Yule Lad: Window Peeper

On the night before December 21st, Gluggagægir, or Window Peeper, sneaks around the house and peeks through windows. It is said that he is looking for a glimpse of good things to steal. So be sure to draw your curtains tight on this night!

Middle school girl stands in front of an ironing board at the school in Hella. She is making Christmas bags that will be given to Hotel Rangá guests.
Hotel Rangá has donated irons, linens and games to the local school in Hella. In return, students create beautiful Christmas bags that are given to guests at Hotel Rangá. Photo by Ingibjörg Friðriksdóttir.

The Eleventh Yule Lad: Door Sniffer

Gáttaþefur, or Door Sniffer, has an extremely long nose that he uses to sniff out baked goods. Be sure to tuck away anything baked on the night before December 22nd – or else Door Sniffer will take a bite! He is known to have a particular fondness for Icelandic Laufabrauð – a traditional Christmas bread made of thin, fried dough.

The Twelfth Yule Lad: Meat Hook

On the night before December 23rd you will want to hide your leftover meat. Ketkrókur, or Meat Hook, uses his special hook to steal meat. He especially loves Icelandic smoked lamb.

The Thirteenth Yule Lad: Candle Beggar

On the night before December 24th Kertasníkir, or Candle Beggar, tiptoes around, hunting for candles. Be sure to hide those candles, or you might have to celebrate Christmas in the dark!

Mountains covered with snow behind an Icelandic country church in Vík.
Many Icelanders attend church on Christmas Eve. Photo by Paige Deasley.

Christmas at Hotel Rangá

Woman colors a picture of the northern lights in the Hotel Rangá coloring book.
Our Hotel Rangá coloring book features beautiful images by artist Natalie O´Brien. Each image tells a different story about Iceland’s history and legends.

Hotel Rangá’s coloring book

If you are looking to learn more about Icelandic traditions, we recommend the Hotel Rangá coloring book. It is a great way to do some armchair exploration before your travels begin. As you color, you will learn about Hotel Rangá, Icelandic legends, and our country’s fascinating history. You can purchase the coloring book in our store or download it free. 

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