This afternoon in Iceland, bells will sound from the steeples of the hundreds of churches to announce the beginning of jól. Today is aðfangadagskvöld, the main event where a feast is shared and gifts exchanged.
December 24 was always the main event in my family too. We would have a meal of small plates, we’d maybe see a movie, and I would usually get most or all of the video games I had asked for. Christmas Day, we would go to both sets of grandparents’ houses, and then I would be more likely to get a Michigan football sweater.
Icelandic is a dying language, and beautiful and bizarre; it generally sounds more interesting than English, so I will do my best in preserving it here. There are, however, rare exceptions where the English way of saying things is more precious. I am speaking particularly about the case of the jólasveinarnir. The Yule Lads.
Truth be told, I’ve been more than a little underwhelmed with my fellow tpc writers’ coverage of their respective Yule Lads, so, unfortunately, I’ll have to dedicate a fair portion of my word count to filling you in.
Starting December 12, they arrive, one each night, bringing gifts to good children and rotting potatoes to bad children, and then hanging around Iceland for another twelve days. First is Stekkjarstaur (you may know him as Sheep-Cote Clod), who “harrasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs.” He leaves tomorrow, thank God. Next are Giljagaur, Stúfur, Þvörusleikir, Pottaskefill, Askasleikir, Hurðaskellir, Skyrgámur, Bjúgnakrækir, Gluggagægir, Gáttaþefur, and Ketkrókur (you should have heard about most of them by now—I’m sorry).
Most of them, frankly, are assholes. If I had to pick one, I do feel some kinship with Skyrgámur as he arrives on my half-birthday and, like me, has a great affinity for yogurt.
On this aðfangadagskvöld, it’s my duty to tell you specifically about the final Yule Lad, who arrives tonight. His name is Kertasníkir, and if you know Icelandic, you’re clutching your candles because you already know why he’s here: to steal your candles. Yes, this will complicate your Advent if you observe it, and even if you just like the ambient glow and aroma during this season, yes, that will be complicated too. As I told you, the Yule Lads are assholes—even more so when you consider that (according to my sources), for children in the olden days of Iceland, pretty much the only aðfangadagskvöld gift you could count on getting was a good-quality candle. In those days, candles would be made of rendered beef or mutton fat, which, though it may sound foul to you, is exactly why Kertasníkir wanted them.
As for why he still does, these days when candles are usually wax, I suppose it’s just tradition.
This year things are different because I’m in Iowa with Taylor’s family, but aðfangadagskvöld is still the big day of feasts and gifts. The past several days have also been pretty full too, though, and we’ll spend all day tomorrow driving up to Northern Michigan to continue the festivities for a few days with my side of the family. So this is the first year that jól will have really felt like a season—each day with a kind of weird new intricacy or a tradition that doesn’t necessarily make sense but one that we observe anyway.
Since you still have twelve more days to navigate after today (one more time, I’m sorry the other staff have failed to prepare you), you may want to learn more about the jól season and the jólasveinarnir. At risk of you glossing over it, though, I will just tell you about the Jólakötturinn, the Yule Lads’ family cat. It eats children who don’t receive any clothing for gifts. Count your blessings, then, this year: your underwear and socks and Michigan football sweatshirts. Even if you think they’re disappointing gifts, you have people who care about you. At least about you not getting eaten.
Jeffrey (‘17) ultimately settled on studying film and media studies and French, though food is his greatest passion. He lives in Grand Rapids and is trying to teach himself computer science so he can, among other things, cyberbully Elon Musk.