Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag


The scoundrel Gully Gawk, second of thirteen Yule Lads came to town this morning

By Staff

  • Giljagaur Gully Gawk was known to hide in deep ravines and gulleys, and then sneak into the cowsheds where he stole milk. Photo/Halldór Bjarnason

All Icelandic children know the story of the Yule Lads, 13 mischievous trolls who live up in the mountains. In December these creatures descend one by one down to farms and towns to participate in people's Christmas preparation in their own unique way, stealing milk and food or otherwise wreak havoc.

Read more: Instead of a friendly Santa Iceland has 13 mischievous Yule lads and an evil Christmas Cat

To people who are used to just one Santa the number 13 might seem a bit much - but once there were as many as 82 different Yule lads! In the 19th century the stories of the Christmas spirits were being collected by ethnographer Jón Árnason, the number was whittled down somewhat as their numbers, names and characteristics were standardized. Gradually Icelanders settled on 13 Yule lads: The other 69 spirits disappearing into the mists of history.

The stories of the Yule Lads were then distilled even further in 1932, when the poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote his Yule lad poem.The poem is still recited in schools in December, and many Icelanders know all the verses by heart. The English translation is by Hallberg Hallmundsson.

Read more: Sheep-Cote Clod, the first yule lad has come down from the mountains

The first of the thirteen brothers, Stekkjastaur ("Sheep-Cote Clod") arrived yesterday, December 12. The second, Giljagaur "Gully Gawk", arrived today.

This is how Gully Gawk is described by Jóhannes:

The second was Gully Gawk,
gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.
Hiding in the stalls,
he would steal the milk, while
the milkmaid gave the cowherd
a meaningful smile.

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