Hello and Happy Holidays, Lovelies! (Or should we say ChristmaHanukKwuanzaamas?) Hope you’re having a great holiday season! Here you’ll find a picture of Gryla and her husband and Rebecca’s notes on the subject. Included are links to where she found the information if you feel like sharing some spooky stories this holiday season.
At the bottom, you’ll find links to the podcasts that were mentioned during the shout-out at the end of this episode.
Grýla is a mountain giantess/troll. (also known as the Christmas Witch)
Gryla loosely translates as “growler”
Some sources describe her as having horns like a goat, hooves, teeth like charcoal, bad nails, low-hanging ears that were fastened to her nose, and a bearded chin (if you look her up she looks like what you’d expect a troll to look like) and other sources state she is half troll / half ogre
References show up as early as the 13th century, with tales beginning as stories
Originally, she wasn’t tied to Christmas, instead being associated with threats living in the mountains. Since she wasn’t related to Christmas at first, she could show up at any time outside of the midwinter celebrations that she became associated with before becoming associated with Christmas
One such account describes her as:
Down comes Grýla from the outer fields
With forty tails
A bag on her back, a sword/knife in her hand,
Coming to carve out the stomachs of the children
Who cry for meat during Lent
Her favorite meal is stew made from naughty children and she is said to have an insatiable appetite which she likes to kidnap by throwing them in sacks and taking them back to her cave
One interesting note is if the children “repented” of their sins in time Gryla had to release them
Other than her (three) husbands (the first of which she was reported to have eaten, the current one is named Leppalúðiis), it wasn’t until the 17th and 19th century that other folklore characters became tied to her as family.
Jólakötturinn (Yule Cat)
Was initially started as a standalone Christmas character until the cat was tied to Gryla in the 19th Century
This cat was said to be larger than a house, and, on Christmas night, would peer into the houses to see if the children have received new clothes for Christmas
If so, the Yule cat would move on
If not, the Yule Cat would eat their dinner, then the child
It is thought that the Yule Cat was meant to inspire generosity in children, inspiring them to give clothes to those less fortunate than they are.
Other accounts say that children had to finish their work on time in order to receive new clothes and not be eaten by the Yule Cat.
Some account say that the Yule Cat will eat anyone who does not have new clothes for Christmas, not just the children, thus the story is meant to inspire hard work during the holidays and has ties to the wool industry.
Johannes ur Kotlum wrote a poem about the Yule Cat, that describes the cat and its job Christmas night, and how people work hard so that everyone has received new clothes in time for the holidays.
Jólasveinar (Yule Lads)
These became known as the children of Gryla by the 17th century, and were initially much more creepy than they are today and were often described as bloodthirtsy
One source said that when Gryla needed food in the mountains, she would send one of her Yule Lads to the village for a naughty child to bring back for stew
Over time, their number would change as would their names and what they did
Some stories indicate that the Yule Lads were creatures that lived in a dimension parallel to our own, and would manifest in our dimension during the christmas season (which would make sense since Iceland has legends of “hidden people”, essentially elves or faeries)
Other stories say that the Yule Lads are Eve’s dirty children that she hid from God, and that after their discovery God sent them to another fallen world
Finally, some thing the Yule Lads are fallen angels
Originally, the Yule Lads were much more mischievous, and used to be named and known for the following:
Sheep-Cote Clod: He tries to suckle yews in farmer’s sheep sheds
Gully Gawk: He steals foam from buckets of cow milk
Stubby: He’s short and steals food from frying pans
Spoon Licker: He licks spoons
Pot Scraper, aka Pot Licker: He steals unwashed pots and licks them clean
Bowl Licker: He steals bowls of food from under the bed (back in the old days, Icelanders used to sometimes store bowls of food there – convenient for midnight snacking?)
Door Slammer: He stomps around and slams doors, keeping everyone awake
Skyr Gobbler: He eats up all the Icelandic yogurt (skyr)
Sausage Swiper: He loves stolen sausages
Window Peeper: He likes to creep outside windows and sometimes steal the stuff he sees inside
Door Sniffer: He has a huge nose and an insatiable appetite for stolen baked goods
Meat Hook: He snatches up any meat left out, especially smoked lamb
Candle Beggar: He steals candles, which used to be sought-after items in Iceland (leaving children in the dark)
Today, they’re much nicer and are more like 13 small santas than the mischievous things they used to be
13 days leading up to christmas, Icelandic children would leave their shoes on the windowsill
If the children have been good, one of the Yule Lads will leave gifts in the children’s shoes
If the children have been bad, the Yule Lads would leave rotting potatoes in their shoes
Their story became officially banned in 1746 by the Danes (by public decree!), who ruled over Iceland at the time, who wanted the stories of the Yule Lads being used to torment children into good behavior during advent to be stopped
And finally, below are the podcasts we mentioned in our extra special holiday shout-out! We wanted to say “Thank You!” to podcasts that have inspired us and have helped us out and, even though we didn’t have time to list everyone, we’re so incredibly thankful to everyone!