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Icelandic Christmas Folklore

‘Tis the season to be jolly – and to look into intriguing Christmas traditions around the world! This year we are heading north to unveil some Icelandic Christmas Folklore. Gather around for the story of the gruesome Gryla and her mischievous 13 Yule Lads.

Gryla is first mentioned in the Prose Edda 1. She is depicted as a hideous troll who roams around towns looking for disobedient children, and takes them home in her giant sack to prepare her favorite meal: naughty children stew.

This monstruos lady lives in a cave in the Dimmuborgir lava fields 2 with her third husband Leppaludi and her thirteen children – the Yule lads.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

And who are the 13 Yule Lads? They are also mountain-dwelling creatures whose mission is scaring children into good behavior. But their unconventional methods were so out of line that the King of Denmark 3 forbade parents from using the Yule Lads stories as disciplinary tool.

This decree didn’t stop parents from telling stories about the Yule Lads, but it turned the terrifying creatures into tamed, well-intended pranksters who left gifts in the children’s shoes throughout the Christmas season.

The poem Jólasveinarnir (The Yule Lads) established the personalities of the thirteen fellows, each of them was given an oddly specific name that captured the nature of their pranks. Let’s take a look!

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Stekkjarstaur (Sheep-Cote Clod) harasses sheep for their milk, but is impaired by his stiff wooden legs.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Giljagaur (Gully Gawk) hides in gullies and sneaks into the sheds to steal milk.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Stúfur (Stubby) steals pans and eats the crust off them. He’s really short.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker) licks wooden spoons and is extremely thin due to malnutrition.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Pottaskefill (Pot-Scraper) feeds on leftovers from pots.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Askasleikir (Bowl-Licker) waits under the bed for someone to put down their “askur” 4, which he then steals.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Hurðaskellir (Door-Slammer) loves slamming doors at night and waking people up.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Skyrgámur (Skyr-Gobbler) has a fondness for for skyr 5.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage-Swiper) hides in the rafters and snatches sausages that are being smoked.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Gluggagægir (Window-Peeper) peeps through windows looking for things to steal.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Gáttaþefur (Doorway-Sniffer) has an acute sense of smell, which he uses to locate Laufabrauð 6.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Ketkrókur (Meat-Hook) steals meat using his hook.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

Kertasníkir (Candle-Stealer) follows children to steal their candles – these were once made of tallow and thus edible.

The Yule Lads arrive over the course of 13 nights, starting on December 12th and leading up to Christmas Eve; and depart on December 25th, one lad leaving every day in the same order they arrived.

Expat Gone Foreign, Language and culture comics, Icelandic Folklore Christmas, 13 Yule Lads, Grýla

And there’s more to this quirky family of trolls and pranksters. Their pet, the Yule Cat, lurks around during the Christmas season and swallows those who haven’t received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve.

Legend has it that the threat of the Yule Cat was employed to scare workers into finishing the production on time, for those who partook in the work were rewarded with new clothes, but those who didn’t would leave empty handed and were thus merciless swallowed by the Christmas feline 7.

Is it Christmas time yet? Leave your shoe on the window sill, and wait for the gifts to drop – but only if you have been obedient! If you haven’t, you will get a rotten potato instead!

Untranslatable Universals (I)

Have you ever had a feeling that you just couldn’t put to words? It’s hard to describe something when you can’t even name it, isn’t it? Well, chances are that somewhere, some language has the exact word you need. In the series Untranslatable Universals we delve into words from many a different language that don’t exist in others, yet convey universal human emotions. Let’s begin!

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, linguistics, untranslatable words for universal emotions, Tagalog

kilig (n.) Tagalog – Rush of exhilaration caused by a romantic happenstance, such as making eye contact or talking to one’s crush.

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, linguistics, untranslatable words for universal emotions, German

Schwellenangst (n.) German – Fear of embarking something new or crossing a threshold.

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, linguistics, untranslatable words for universal emotions, Greek

ελευθερομανία [eleutheromania] (n.) Greek – Intense desire for or obsession with freedom.

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, linguistics, untranslatable words for universal emotions, Japanese

物の哀れ [mono no aware] (n.) Japanese – Bittersweet feeling for appreciation towards beautiful things pared with a deep wistfulness for their ephemeral nature. ‘Mono no aware’ literally means ‘pathos of things’, a sensitivity and sorrow towards the ephemeral.

 

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, linguistics, untranslatable words for universal emotions, Italian

abbiocco (n.) Italian – Drowsy sensation following a large or hearty meal that often leads to falling asleep.

 

That’s it for now. Do you know more untranslatable universals? Let me know in the comments!