MYVATN, Iceland – The people of northern Iceland have had their travel plans disrupted with a record high snowfall this December. Roads have been shut, flights canceled and school suspended.
But for the children of this isolated North Atlantic island nation, the main worry is how the waist-high snow might affect the Icelandic Santa, Stekkjastaur, who after all has a stiff peg-leg.
He is one of 13 mischievous troll brothers, called the Yule Lads, who have entertained and also frightened Icelandic children for hundreds of years.
Instead of a friendly Santa Claus, children in Iceland enjoy favors from the brothers, who come down from their mountain cave 13 days before Christmas, according to folklore.
The brothers are loud, reckless, and have names like Door-Slammer, Window-Peeper, Meat-Hook, Candle-Stealer – reflecting their preferred method of pranks or criminal behavior. But they claim to be mostly rehabilitated, and Sausage-Swiper is now keen to host barbecues.
Traditionally, they bathe once a year ahead of Christmas. Every year, local actors in Myvatn, an inland community bordering Iceland's uninhabited interior, dress up in 19th-century costume and arrive as the Yule Lads to a natural lagoon heated with water from hot springs.
To children in the region, their arrival marks the countdown to Dec. 24, when Icelanders celebrate Christmas.
In the spirit of today's global outsourcing economy, the Yule Lads have also taken on the responsibility of replying to letters addressed to Santa Claus, their foreign colleague.
For the next 13 days leading to Christmas, Icelandic children will enjoy favors from the Icelandic Santas as they come down from the mountains one by one, with presents – or a rotten potato in the case of bad behavior.