THE 13 CHRISTMAS LADS
A few years back, Grace and I visited Iceland two weeks before Christmas. (Note: Iceland this time of year is for night owls. Sunrise is at about 11 am and it starts getting dusky at 3pm). Anyway, one morning I opened the door to our hotel room to find a brown paper bag, similar to the kind Mom used to put my school lunches in. Inside the bag were two oranges, one for each of us. Next day, a bag with two cookies. Being used to American hotels, where the only thing left at the door is the check-out bill, I thought highly of Icelandic hospitality. It turns out it was more than that.
In Icelandic yule lore, there are 13 yule lads, sort of elves, who leave candy and assorted treats overnight for those on the nice list on each of the thirteen days before Christmas. Naughty people and children get nothing, or worse, rotten potatoes. If you've really been a horrible person, there is a creature called Gryla, who comes down from the mountains on Christmas Day and boils the miscreant alive. Eek! And I thought coal in the stocking was a mean thing to lay on children. No wonder Icelandic children all look so pasty white, as if the blood had drained out of their faces.
Iceland is a Christian country, so you also have the 12 days of Christmas. Throw in Christmas itself and we're talking 26 days of the holiday! If an Icelander also happened to be a Jew for Jesus and celebrated Hanukkah, another 8 days of gifts, bringing the season total to 34. It must be good to be in retail in Iceland.
The point is there are wonderful customs and traditions accompanying the most wonderful time of the year wherever you go. That is, so long as you manage not to get boiled alive.