Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Icelandic Yulemen

Thirteen days before Christmas the Yulemen begin to arrive at farms and in towns. These 13 brothers are strange creatures, part troll and part prankster in human form. Actually, they are much meeker today than they were in former times, when according to Icelandic lore, they could be quite dangerous. Their father and mother, Grýla and Leppalúði, were terrible trolls who caught and ate disobedient children. Even the family cat was a monster. On Christmas Day it searched out any child that didn't get a new piece of clothing for Christmas and ate, if not the child, at least his ration of Christmas food. The Yulemen played pranks on people and stole from them. Each had his special Christmas preference--food, or candles for example - and a distinctive way of getting his hands on it which was reflected in his name. Today's prosperity has softened the lads a bit and now they are good-natured boys who come bearing gifts. They used to dress in warm woolen clothes in tones of black white gray and brown. These days they sometimes put on red suits, which they claim are their best clothes. The night before the first Yuleman arrives (December 12th) there are suddenly little shoes on the windowsills of the bedrooms of all Icelandic children. The reason for the shoes is that the children know that if they have behaved well, they can expect the Yuleman to sneak a little treat into the shoe while they are asleep. If they have not behaved well, however, they may find only a potato or nothing at all in the shoe when they wake up. Sometimes the children leave a little something in the shoe for the Yuleman to find - a sausage for "Sausage Snatcher" or maybe a candle for "Candle Beggar".
Nobody knows exactly how the Icelandic Yulemen came into being. They seem to have always been a part of Icelandic tradition. Stories of these trolls and their brood were so horrible that in 1746 the Danes, who governed Iceland at the time, issued a law to put a stop to the frightening of children with them. Nevertheless, the stories lived on with the people as they have probably done since the time of the Settlement.

The Yulemen come from the mountains in this order:

1. Stiff Legs, (Stekkjarstaur): He loves to suck milk from the sheep, but his stiff legs make that very difficult.

2. Gully Gawk, (Giljagaur): Has a taste for the froth on the milk and keeps close to the cows.

3. Shorty (Stúfur): Small and nimble and smacks his lips over the leftovers in the cooking pans, especially if they are burnt.

4. Ladle Licker, (Þvörusleikir): So thin he resembles the ladles which he licks the food from.

5. Pot Scraper (Pottaskefill): Snatches the unwashed pots from the kitchen and scrapes the insides with his fingers and tongue and leaves them quite clean.

6. Bowl Licker (Askasleikir): Very cunningly finds bowls that have been left unattended and finishes all food from them.

7. Door Slammer (Hurðaskellir): Gets his kicks from slamming doors, using every chance to disturb peoples sleep.

8. Curd Glutton (Skyrgámur): The dairy product is his favorite and if stored in closed containers he simply breaks through the lid with his fist.

9. Sausage Snatcher (Bjúgnakrækir): Very nimble when it comes to climbing up into the rafters where the sausages are hung to smoke.

10. Window Peeper (Gluggagægir): Flattens his nose against every window to glimpse something to steal.

11. Sniffer (Gáttaþefur): Has a very big nose and sniffes out his favorite food, fried bread, wherever it is being made.

12. Meat Hook (Ketkrókur): Has a long pole with a hook on the end to put down the chimneys and into the meat hung on the rafters.

13. Candle Beggar (Kertasníkir): Loves tallowcandles and can't make up his mind whether to eat them or watch their lovely light.


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