In Iceland, they don’t have Santa Claus. Instead, they have 13 “Yule Lads” that either give you presents or scare you, depending on how well you behaved throughout the year.
Technically, the Yule Lads are trolls born of ancient monsters that love to eat children for breakfast. But that was back in the old days when fairy tails weren’t cool unless somebody got eaten. These days the Yule Lads are less troll-like and more dwarf-like. Think Sleeping Beauty, only there’s 13 of these bearded dudes instead of seven.
In case this wasn’t abundantly clear already, the Yule Lads are born from Icelandic folklore. As befitting their troll-ish nature, they originally were a group of pranksters each with a name that spelled exactly how they’d get you. There’s Sausage-Swiper, who would steal your sausages, Bowl-Licker, who would lick bowls of soup left unattended, and Doorway-Sniffer, who just liked to smell things.
There's also Stubby. He likes to steal crusts from bread pans, but nobody could make a clever name out of that, so he got stuck with "Stubby".
However, these days the Yule Lads have turned over a new leaf. Instead of stealing food and causing a ruckus, they’re like Santa’s little Icelanding helpers. Each day before Christmas, one of the Yule Lads will come down from their cave in the mountains to give the good boys and girls of Iceland presents if they’re good, and rotting potatoes if they’re bad.
So that means kids get a present for almost two weeks before December 25th but then got nothing on Christmas Day because Iceland celebrates Christmas on the 24th.
The Yule Lads even get some help from the Icelandic postal service. Speaking with the Associated Press, postal service spokesperson Soffia Jonsdottir revealed that Santa has been outsourcing some of his correspondence to the Yule Lads.
“Santa is a distant cousin of the Yule Lads so of course we are happy to help out,” she said. “We reply to every letter that has a return address.”
This year’s winter has hit Iceland particularly hard causing heavy snowfalls that have canceled both schools and flights. But Icelandic kids shouldn’t be too concerned--the Yule Lads are used to trudging through feet of snow.