Iceland’s Christmas Men © Annette Gray
During the thirteenth century Icelandic children dreaded winter for they
were told this was the season when two evil visitors came to feast on
naughty children. The legend caused children so much trauma that legislation
was passed making it a felony to perpetuate this myth. Soon after a less
frightening story emerged—the tale of thirteen mischievous men who are said
to arrive in single file during the Yuletide. Their names are Stiff Legs,
Gully Lurker, Shorty, Spoon Licker, Bowl Scraper, Pot Licker, Door Slammer,
Curd Glutton, Sausage Snatcher, Window Peeper, Sniffer, Meat Hook and Candle
Beggar. Even today, in many Icelandic homes, the whimsical little men enjoy
greater popularity than Santa Claus.
T’is an old Icelandic saga which evolved in days of yore
Telling of a hungry couple who ate children by the score.
They appeared each Yuletide season, choosing naughty little waifs,
Children who rebuked their elders or left food upon their plates.
Later, it was thought insidious to threaten children with these yarns
So, a royal degree was issued—no more frightening little ones.
Children’s stories told at Christmas changed to include tiny men
Who are silly little pranksters, somewhat naughty now and then.
Elf-like they’ve been given strange names and their role is one of fun.
A small fellow we call “Stiff Legs,” never seems to hop or run.
Thirteen days before Christmas, he’ll come stiffly through the door.
One day later, Gully Lurker sneaks up from the canyon floor.
Shorty, smallest of the wee men, is as timid as a mouse.
Eleven days before Christmas he comes scurrying in the house.
Other tiny men will enter; each will come on separate days.
Some will scamper to the kitchen where they flaunt mischievous ways.
Here Spoon Licker, Bowl Scraper and one named Pot Licker, too,
Will gorge themselves on savory batters and lap up the tastiest brew.
Seven nights before Christmas, Door Slammer wakens one and all.
A day later comes Curd Glutton, running swiftly down the hall.
Sausage Snatcher, Window Peeper make their entrance stealthily.
Sniffer can be heard inhaling the scent of baking and fresh-cut tree.
Two days from the celebration, Meat Hook can be heard outside.
Children’s hearts beat ever faster for it is the Yuletide.
Finally on the eve of Christmas one last elfin comes along.
He is called the Candle Beggar and enters with a caroler’s song.
When the candles burn the brightest, he is there to steal the glow,
Sipping wax from burning candles, watching as flames smaller grow.
Then, when Christmas day is over and every heart is filled with cheer,
The men depart in single file—but they’ll be back again next year.