Gryla & The 13 Yule Lads

Posted by in US Ghost Adventures

In the enchanting tapestry of Christmas folklore, where the air is filled with the magic of the season, tales of yuletide spirits and mythical creatures have danced through the ages. But Christmas, a time traditionally associated with joy and merriment, harbors a shadowy side adorned with spooky monsters and mystical beings. 


Amongst these festive beasts are Christmas Devils and a Yule Cat with a taste for flesh. Prepare for a holiday history lesson in the macabre as US Ghost Adventures introduces you to the legend of Gryla and the 13 Yule Lads.

Want to visit the sites where some of America’s most terrifying legends were made? Book an authentic ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures!

Ancient Customs

Christmas folklore traces its roots to ancient customs and beliefs, a blend of pagan traditions, medieval legends, and cultural amalgamations. In various cultures, the winter solstice has long been celebrated as a moment of rebirth and the triumph of light over darkness. With the spread of Christianity, these ancient traditions merged with the Nativity story, giving rise to a diverse array of characters and enchanting narratives.


Among the festive folklore, a peculiar and slightly chilling undercurrent emerges as tales of mythical creatures such as Krampus or Jólakötturinn, also known as The Yule Cat, in Icelandic folklore. Prowls the wintry landscapes, ready to pounce on those who haven’t received new clothes for Christmas. 


This feline enforcer of the season’s traditions adds a layer of suspense to the exchanging of gifts as individuals strive to escape the clutches of the Yule Cat by ensuring their loved ones are suitably attired.

These monstrous beings, far from the warm embrace of Santa Claus, embody the darker, more mysterious aspects of the holiday season. Gryla, a figure deeply rooted in Icelandic folklore, stands as a prime example of the mysterious wonders that lurk in the corners of Christmas traditions. In fact, she represents the winter solstice.

A Mountain Ogress

Photo property of US Ghost Adventures

Grýla is a giantess of the mountains, a multifaceted entity known by various names such as Ogress, Scary Woman, Bugbear, and Peeve. As the winter solstice draws near, Grýla awakens from her mountain abode, making her presence known only during the Christmas season. In the Faroese and Shetlandic traditions, the spirit of Grýla is so compelling that locals don costumes resembling giantesses, echoing her haunting essence. 


These unique outfits are crafted from a blend of materials, including animal skins, tattered clothes, seaweed, straw, and masks. The embodiment of Grýla through these costumes adds a touch of dreamlike to the winter festivities, reflecting the mysterious allure of this Christmas monster.

Gryla’s Stew

As the Christmas season unfolds, Gryla, making her presence known, ventures into the inhabited lands solely during this magical time. Legend has it that Gryla’s primary quest is to seek out mischievous children, capturing them and whisking them away to her mountainous lair. 


Sometimes, she is even depicted carrying a sack, akin to Santa Claus, in which she stuffs the captured children. Here, in the rugged isolation of the Icelandic wilderness, Gryla is said to engage in rather ominous practices. Some tales suggest that she boils the children alive, preparing a ghastly stew from their youthful flesh.


Gryla is not merely a mythical being; she serves as a disciplinarian figure woven into the fabric of Icelandic culture. The mere mention of Gryla’s name is often employed as a gentle warning to children, encouraging good behavior during the holiday season. 


In modern times, the Gryla tradition has evolved into vibrant cultural expressions, including community events, parades, and performances where individuals embrace the roles of Gryla and the Yule Lads. These festive gatherings feature theatrical representations, storytelling, and a sense of communal celebration.

The 13 Yule Lads

Photo property of US Ghost Adventures

Intriguingly, Gryla is intricately connected to the Yule Lads, mischievous characters who, according to Icelandic folklore, are her sons. These Yule Lads embark on their own journey, visiting children on the thirteen nights leading up to Christmas.


The Yule Lads, or Yulemen, are figures from Icelandic folklore who are said to be the sons of Gryla and her husband Leppaludi. Traditionally, there are 13 Yule Lads, each with their distinct impish personalities known for a specific prank or trick they play on children during the Christmas season.


The origin of the Yule Lads can be traced back to ancient Icelandic traditions, where folklore played a significant role in shaping cultural narratives. The stories of the Yule Lads have been passed down through generations, with variations in the tales evolving over time.

One by One

According to tradition, the Yule Lads arrive one by one in the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, starting from December 12th. Children place their shoes on the windowsill, and the Yule Lads leave small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on the child’s behavior.


There is a sense of anticipation and sometimes fear associated with the arrival of the Yule Lads. Parents might use the stories of these unruly creatures to encourage good behavior in their children during the Christmas season. The Yule Lads embody a blend of superstition and cultural tradition, adding a unique flavor to Icelandic Christmas celebrations.


Some specific stories include one lad named Stekkjarstaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), who harasses sheep but is impaired by his stiff peg legs. Another lad, Giljagaur (Gully Gawk), hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. 


Then there is Stufur (Stubby), who Is unusually short and steals pans to eat the crust left on them. Þvörusleikir (Spoon-Licker) Steals long-handled spoons to lick them, and Pottasleikir (Pot-Scraper) steals leftovers from pots.

A Haunted Farewell

As the winter nights grow longer and the Northern Lights paint the sky, the essence of Gryla and the Yule Lads lingers, transcending time and space. Whether whispered around the hearth or celebrated in costume, their presence adds a touch of enchantment to the holiday season, inviting us to embrace the mysteries that dwell in the heart of Icelandic Christmas tradition. 


To uncover more secrets and legends that dwell from the darkest shadows of your city, book a ghost tour with US Ghost Adventures. Join us to uncover the horrors that lay in waiting in your hometown. Until then, we bid you a haunted farewell.