An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

The Yule Lads of Iceland - Pranksters of the North

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Robert Cyr
  • 104th Fighter Wing Equal Opportunity Office

Quite a few of us were lucky enough to spend some time in Iceland as part of our 2016 European deployment. The trip took place in the Spring of that year, so things were just starting to warm up from the long cold winter. While seeing the sun for an extended period of time was nice, we did miss our opportunity to experience the Yule Lads: a group of thirteen supernatural pranksters who play a major role in the lead up to Christmas Day.

According to tradition, the Yule Lads arrive over the course of the last thirteen days before Christmas, one per day. Children will often leave a shoe in the windowsill in anticipation of them arriving during the night. The story goes that if the child has been well behaved, a Yule Lad will leave candy or a present of some sort. If the child was misbehaved, they could expect to wake to a shoe full of rotten potatoes.

In addition to their various gifts, the Yule Lads were also known to be clever pranksters. Each of the 13 was known for its own brand of mischief. Sheep-Cote Clod would harass and wake the sheep, Gully Gawk would wait for opportunities to steal milk, Stubby would steal your pans if they weren’t clean for the extra crumbs, and Spoon-Licker and Bowl-Licker would steal spoons and bowls for the same reason. Door-Slammer would slam your doors in the middle of the night to wake everyone up, Skyr-Gobbler would enjoy stealing yogurt, Sausage-Swiper would hide in the rafters and wait to steal meats, Window-Peeper would snoop through the windows looking for things to steal, Meat-Hook would also steal meats, and Candle-Stealer would be known to follow children to steal their candles at night.

The full origin of the Yule Lads is unknown, but historians believe the beliefs began on a more regional level where they were known as the offspring of the Icelandic deities Gryla and Leppaluoi. As time went on, different Lads were added or combined as the various traditions spread across the island. Today, the contemporary version of the Lads is significantly more festive, with some even being depicted wearing the red and white suit often attributed to Santa Claus.