Roughly translating to “Dark Castles” in Icelandic, Dimmuborgir is thought to be the home of Grýla, the homicidal half troll, half ogre. Her 13 children are known as the Yule Lads—mischievous Icelandic renditions of the western Santa Claus. In the 13 days leading up to Christmas, children around Iceland leave their shoes in the window sill and receive gifts if they have been well-behaved. Those who have been naughty receive only a rotten potato, and might be snatched by the Lads and cooked for Grýla’s dinner. Grýla also owns a large black cat who eats only once a year. It waits until all of the children unwrap their Christmas gifts, and then eats anyone who didn’t receive a piece of clothing.
At one point in 1746, children were so afraid of being eaten that the government had to step in and put a ban on using the myth as a scare tactic.
Gifts left in shoes, milk disappearing from the fridge, mysterious figures whisking into the shadows…at Christmas time in Iceland this can mean only one thing – the Yule Lads are back in town! Over the centuries the Icelanders have developed a highly unusual set of Yuletide traditions, from the food they eat – smoked lamb, rotten skate and leaf bread – to their colourful folklore featuring the giant troll Gryla, her thirteen rascally sons, and that huge, hungry feline – the Yule Cat. The Yule Lads gives readers of all ages a delightful insight into the history, customs and characters of Christmas in Iceland. Beautifully illustrated hard cover in English.
I bought this book in Iceland, before I had any children, because I loved Brian Pilkington’s wonderful illustrations and wanted a souvenir of my trip. I was captivated by Icelandic folklore and particularly liked the story of the Yule Lads, mischievous tykes who are supposed to visit your house on specific dates in December. I hope you like them as much as I do.
Watch out for the Yule Lads this December!
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