Grýla The Iceland's Ogress

Grýla is one of Iceland’s most renowned figures associated with Christmas. This mythical giantess living in the mountains of Iceland and made her first appearance in ancient Pagan times. The word grýla is used in Sturlunga Saga (a collection of Icelandic Sagas) about a giantess or an ogress which causes terror and danger. An old poem about Grýla describes her as having fifteen tails and on each tail she had a hundred balloons and every balloon contained twenty children. Other descriptions of Grýla say that she had 300 heads and 3 eyes on each head. She kidnaps the children and she and her husband, Leppalúði, put them in a large sack. Another account says that she has bad nails on each finger, eyes in the back of her head and horns like a goat, the ears dangle down to her shoulders and are fastened to her nose. Her chin is bearded and her teeth are like charcoal.

Grýla was not directly linked to Christmas until the 17th century. By that time she had become the mother of the Yule Lads. During Christmas time, she comes from the mountains to search nearby towns for her meal. She leaves her cave and hunts for the children. She devours children as her favorite snack. Her favorite dish is a stew of naughty kids for which she has an insatiable appetite. According to legend, there is never a shortage of food for Gryla.

In the 1600s, little Icelandic boys and girls first heard about a woman named Grýla, who lived in the mountains with her aging husband, 13 sons (The Yule Lads), and a giant black cat, the pet of both Gryla and the Yule Cat’s prey consists of both children and adults. 

The 13 sons are: 
1. Sheep Cote Clog – A peg legged sheep fancier. His “fancy-ing” is impaired by his peg legs. 

2. Gully Gawk – hides out in ditches or gullies and waits for an opportune moment to run into the cow shed and lick the foam off the milk in the milking buckets. 

3. Stubby – His name denotes his stature as he is unusually short. If your pie pan is missing, you can bet Stubby has stolen it to eat whatever pie crust was left behind. 

4. Spoon Licker – Licker and thief of spoons. 

5. Pot Scraper – Petty thief of leftovers. 

6. Bowl Licker – This one hides under your bed and waits for you to absentmindedly put down your bowl so he can steal and yes, lick it. 

7. Door Slammer – Oh, did you just fall asleep? Not for long! This guy plans on slamming doors all night. 

8. Skyr Gobbler – There will be no skyr, a type of yogurt, left in your house on the night the Skyr Gobbler visits. 

9. Sausage Swiper – He’s going to steal your sausage. I hope its well hidden. 

10. Window Peeper – He’s watching you right now. 

11. Doorway Sniffer – Uses his incredibly large nose to sniff through doors as a leaf bread, (a traditional Icelandic Christmas bread), locator. 

12. Meat Hook – This fellow always brings a hook along with him so he can steal meat. 

13. Candle Stealer – He follows children around so he can steal their candles, leaving them in the dark… 

Since Grýla’s family lived in the mountains, they didn’t have a lot of dinner options. So she would send The Yule Lads into town, where they would snatch unruly children and bring them back to be cooked in a stew.

The Grýla legend has appeared in many stories, poems, songs and plays in Iceland and sometimes Grýla dies at the end of the story.


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