At least, that’s how the song would go in Iceland. Because where we have Santa Claus coming down the chimney on Christmas eve, in Iceland their Christmas involves trolls, and lots of them.
THE EERIE YULE LADS
In the old days life in Iceland was harsh and their stories reflected that hardship. For example, to make children behave around Christmas time parents didn’t bribe them with shiny gifts but instead told them stories about how trolls would come down from the mountains and go after them if they were bad.
The trolls were called Yule Lads, and they were the sons of a famous evil troll named Gryla. Born in the mountains, the thirteen Yule Lads lived to cause mayhem, and Christmas time was their favorite time to stir up trouble.
In the days before Christmas the Yule Lads would come down from their dark mountain caves one by one to terrify children in their own particular style.
Imagine that you’re a kid in Iceland around Christmas time in the old days and you’re jolted awake by a thump-thump sound from outside. Trust me, you’re going to want to stay under your covers because that’s not Santa and his reindeer landing on the roof. It’s probably Sheep Cote-Clod, a troll with wooden legs that breaks through fences looking for sheep to steal.
See something shining through the window? That’s probably the eyes of Window Peeper, who likes to look in windows before breaking in. Door Slammer is a troll that likes to creep around houses in the middle of the night and slam doors.
Some of the thirteen trolls like to hide under beds, others follow and attack children who happen to be carrying candles. The thing that all of them have in common is that they’re especially attracted by the acts of bad children, even for something as simple as saying a curse word.
You can see how stories of the Yule Lads became a little addicting to some parents in Iceland who wanted to stop their children from misbehaving. Apparently things got so bad that eventually a public decree was made banning parents from scaring their kids with stories of the Yule Lads, and that was the beginning of the end for the traditional scary Christmas trolls.
SANTA’S REDNECK COUSINS
After the public decree, slowly the story of the Yule Lads were changed to make them less scary.
Children were actually encouraged to attract the Yule Lads to their houses by leaving a shoe on a window sill. If a child had been good then each day before Christmas a Yule Lad would leave a small gift in the shoe, but if the child had been bad then they would leave a rotten potato.
Nowadays the Yule Lads are miles away from the terrifying trolls of the old stories. They are usually shown dressed in red Santa outfits and acting goofy like they’re redneck cousins of Kris Kringle or something. But misbehaving kids in Iceland aren’t completely off the hook for their bad behavior, because one part of the old story still survives.
Gryla, the troll mother of the Yule Lads is still believed to come down from the mountains to search the towns for bad children. She slinks in the shadows looking to raid houses of their most ill-behaved kids, then stuffs them in a sack to take back to her mountain cave so she can make a dinner stew out of them.
So maybe it’s not quite safe to come out from under the covers around Christmas time in Iceland… at least if you’re a misbehaving kid :D.