It’s the most wonderful time of the year: The time when 13 trolls descend from a mountain cave in Iceland to terrorize children, and to bathe.
As American Christmas approaches, some may choose to count down with an Advent calendar. That’s fine; to each their own. In Icelandic legend, though, 13 mythical deviants known as the Yule Lads make their way down from the mountains in the 13 days leading up to Christmas, coming into town one at a time like a really ominous Advent calendar one has no say in. (This year, heavy snowfall was feared to have stymied their journey, according to the Associated Press.)
Wouldn’t you, too, want the company of 13 severe troll men as you enter the existential dread of shorter, darker days and the conclusion of yet another revolution around the sun?
Here’s who you’re working with. Among the 13, there’s “Sheep-Cote Clod,” the first to arrive, who drinks milk from sheep (nefarious); “Meat-Hook,” “Pot-Licker,” and “Spoon-Licker,” who do pretty much what you’d expect (most of these brothers tend toward petty larceny); and “Window-Peeper,” perhaps the creepiest of the lot, who just likes to look in on the children while they’re sleeping.
The troll brothers, like their better-known Austrian counterpart Krampus, exist to scare children into their best behavior. (Although unlike their cannibalistic mother Grýla and their Christmas Cat, they don’t actually eat children.) Honestly, Icelanders know what’s up, teaching their children from a young age that the world is a dark, dangerous place: “On old Icelandic farms, stories of dark figures kept children from running into the mountains or falling into lakes or things like that,” Terry Gunnell, a professor in folklore at the University of Iceland, told the AP.
That being said, the Yule Lads have supposedly cleaned up their acts recently; “Sausage-Swiper,” for example, no longer steals sausages and instead prefers to host barbecues. “You find a number of parents saying that we have to tone Grýla and her family down a bit,” Gunnell said. This is not new — as of 1746, it apparently became illegal for parents to threaten their children with Grýla’s wrath. “But that would take away some the genuine Icelandic Christmas, which is a dark time when days pass with only few hours of sunlight.” The children must learn.