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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.

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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!

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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!

The Hidden Tax

I can’t get used to “the hidden tax” in the United States. Personally, I like my prices right out there where I can see them.

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So, where’s the trick? In the US there’s no such thing as the VAT 8 and the prices you see in stores aren’t the final prices. Instead, the sales tax is added at the check-out, so the final amount is slightly higher than what you had anticipated. Your foreign self might wonder whether you are mathematically challenged or the victim of a grocery scam. Quite the financial clusterf**k.

Cross-cultural Spontaneity

Every Mediterranean person knows those Friday afternoons in which you spontaneously decide to grab a beer at the bar around the corner, and somehow you end up in a massive party of a friend who knows a friend who knows a friend, and it turns into one of those legendary evenings to remember. Well, that scenario could hardly happen among Northerners. Take Germans, for instance. They make good coworkers, but when it comes to social life… they are as spontaneous as a Swiss train timetable.

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Land of painfully slow Internet

It is said that if you want to know how people really are, you should give them a computer with a glacially slow internet connection. When it comes to patience, Germans must be second to none. The economic powerhouse of Europe and home of the warp-speed Autobahn also happens to be the land of painfully slow internet.

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As of February 2020, Germany ranks 39th on broadband speed in a global scale, and is painfully below the European average. The situation is even more staggering for mobile data. According to the BNetzA report from 2017, only 1.6% of users were getting the speed promised by their providers, and only 18% reached half the speed contractually agreed upon.

While the world frantically switches to 5G technology, here I am, staring at the screen while this post is finally uploaded. I guess I could brew some tea in the meantime, maybe pay a visit to my family… even pick a new career, get a degree, found a business, retire and move to Singapore. You know, whatever happens first.