I started this series of posts after reading about a Santa Claus-like figure found in Tajikistan, and discovered that the tradition of mysterious Christmas visitors is quite widespread. Some are animals, most bring gifts, but some are just out to cause trouble. For instance, tonight homes in Iceland are due to be visited by Bjúgnakrækir, the Sausage Swiper, who hides in the rafters of homes and steals sausages hung for smoking over the next 13 nights.
Bjúgnakrækir is one of the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir), who leave their rocky mountain home from the 13th of December and creep down into the towns and villages. Each night a new lad arrives, playing pranks and causing trouble for homeowners, until they return to the mountains. Icelandic children put a shoe on their bedroom window-ledge for each of the 13days leading up to Christmas day, hoping for a treat. Depending on their behaviour through the year, they might be rewarded with sweets and cakes or tricked with a rotten potato.
Apparently the Yule Lads were once a lot less benign, but they have been mellowed over the years to become harmless tricksters. Each Lad has his own distinctive character, inspired by the types of pranks he likes to play. The Sausage Swiper is my favourite, and there is also Hurðaskellir, the Door Slammer, who wakes people on 18th December with slamming doors and stomping feet, and Þvörusleikir, the Spoon Licker, who pinches food from mixing bowls.