A very special friend, who I met when I was little more than a pup, sent me a poem. It just goes to show, we four-legses pull together when one of us needs help…and I definitely need help staying out of those antlers this year. Mind you, it could be worse… I’ve seen her looking at stuff to threaten me with… She says she would never do it, you know, dress me up as a fairy or an elf… but honest, after the antlers, I don’t trust her. She’s got a weird sense of humour. Warped might be a better word….
Anyway, this friend is a bit confusing. Technically, he’s a two-legs when you meet him. I sat on him to check. But his picture looks like a four legs… and he calls himself after a different four legs… and he seems to trail a lot of four-legses with him too, but that’s a different story. They are not really there…well, not in the way you two-legses mean ‘really’. Like I said…it’s all a bit confusing for a small dog. We tend to just take people as they come, no matter how many legs they have.
…And to answer his question, I am already a practiced Door Sniffer, so it would have to be Meat Hook as the Elk has already filched the sausages….
I was minded, by your call for Christmastide letters, of a tale of Yule, long known in the lore of the far-off Isle of Iceland. It is one which I am sure you might enjoy, involving, as it does, a bunch of Lads who come to visit during the season, and who, I’m sure, you’d enjoy helping if you could.
Nowadays, in Iceland, they have become like a version of Santa Claus. In the older tales, however, the Yule Lads visit every child and leaves either a gift or a rotting potato, depending on how well behaved the child had been throughout the year.
A rotting potato, Ani! Can you believe it?
Each Lad has changed throughout history. They have ranged from a simple prankster, through criminal types coming to steal things, to, frankly, homicidal monsters who only want to eat children! Their role used to be to scare children to be good, but a law was passed in 1740-odd to stop parents from frightening their children with stories of the Yule Lads.
In 1932, Johannes ur Kotlum wrote down a version, “Jolasveinarnir” (The Yule Lads) which kind of fixed their number to thirteen, who come during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve. Each only returns to their mountain home thirteen days after first arriving.
Would you mind too much if your visitors should stay for such a long time?
This version has been translated by a fine ball retriever called “Hallberg Hallmundsson”, so it’s his copyright. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing it with you, though…
Let me tell the story of the lads of few charms,
who once upon a time used to visit our farms.
Thirteen altogether, these gents in their prime
didn´t want to irk people all at one time.
They came from the mountains, as many of you know,
in a long single file to the farmsteads below.
Creeping up, all stealth, they unlocked the door.
The kitchen and the pantry they came looking for.
Grýla was their mother – she gave them ogre milk –[i]
and the father Leppalúdi; a loathsome ilk.
They hid where they could, with a cunning look or sneer,
ready with their pranks when people weren´t near.
They were called the Yuletide lads – at Yuletide they were due –
and always came one by one, not ever two by two.
And even when they were seen, they weren´t loath to roam
and play their tricks – disturbing the peace of the home.
The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod[ii]. He came stiff as wood,
to pray upon the farmer´s sheep as far as he could.
He wished to suck the ewes, but it was no accident
he couldn´t; he had stiff knees – not too convenient.
The second was Gully Gawk[iii], grey his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn from his craggy ravine.
Hiding in the stalls, he would steal the milk,
while the milkmaid gave the cowherd a meaningful smile.
Stubby[iv] was the third called, a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance to whisk off a pan.
And scurrying away with it, he scraped off the bits
that stuck to the bottom and brims – his favorites.
The fourth was Spoon Licker[v]; like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover when the cook wasn´t in.
Then stepping up, he grappled the stirring spoon with glee,
holding it with both hands for it was slippery.
Pot Scraper[vi], the fifth one, was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings, he´d come to the door and tap.
And they would rush to see if there really was a guest.
Then he hurried to the pot and had a scrapingfest.
Bowl Licker[vii], the sixth one, was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads he stuck his ugly head.
And when the bowls were left to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself – he was sure good at that!
The seventh was Door Slammer[viii], a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight would take a little nap,
he was happy as a lark with the havoc he could wreak,
slamming doors and hearing the hinges on them squeak
Skyr Gobbler[ix], the eighth, was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub till the lid on it broke.
Then he stood there gobbling – his greed was well known –
until, about to burst, he would bleat, howl and groan.
The ninth was Sausage Swiper[x], a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters and raided food from there.
Sitting on a crossbeam in soot and in smoke,
he fed himself on sausage fit for gentlefolk.
The tenth was Window Peeper[xi], a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window and stole a peek through it.
And whatever was inside to which his eye was drawn,
he most likely attempted to take later on.
Eleventh was Door Sniffer[xii], a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold, yet had a huge, sensitive nose.
He caught the scent of lace bread while leagues away still
and ran toward it weightless as wind over dale and hill.
Meat Hook[xiii], the twelfth one, his talent would display
as soon as he arrived on Saint Thorlak´s Day.
He snagged himself a morsel of meat of any sort,
although his hook at times was a tiny bit short.
The thirteenth was Candle Beggar[xiv] – ´twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last of the lot on Christmas Eve.
He trailed after the little ones who, like happy sprites,
ran about the farm with their fine tallow lights.
On Christmas night itself – so a wise man writes –
the Lads were all restraint and just stared at the lights.
Then one by one they trotted off into the frost and snow.
On Twelfth Night the last of the lads used to go.
Their footprints in the highlands are effaced now for long,
the memories have all turned to image and song.
I quite like the idea of helping out Sausage Swiper. Who would be your favourite?
[i] Gryla, mother of the Yule Lads, is a monstrous giant troll living in the mountains, Every year around Christmas she comes down looking for naughty children to add to her favourite dish: a stew of ill-mannered children.
[ii] Appearing on December 12th, leaving on the 25th, he frightens sheep.
[iii] Appearing on December 13th, leaving on the 26th, steals milk.
[iv] Appearing on December 14th, leaving on the 27th, steals frying pans to scrape out the leftovers.
[v] Appearing on December 15th, leaving on the 28th, steals spoons to lick off the leftovers.
[vi] Appearing on December 16th, leaving on the 29th, steals the leftovers from pots.
[vii] Appearing on December 17th, leaving on the 30th, cleans out the leftovers in bowls.
[viii] Appearing on December 18th, leaving on the 31st, bangs doors at night.
[ix] Appearing on December 19th, leaving on the 1st Jan, steals the yogurt (or preferred dairy product).
[x] Appearing on December 20th, leaving on 2nd Jan, (my favourite) steals sausages.
[xi] Appearing on December 21st, leaving on 3rd Jan, peeps into windows (or out if you prefer).
[xii] Appearing on December 22nd, leaving on 4th Jan, sniffs out, and steals, bread.
[xiii] Appearing on December 23rd, leaving on 5th Jan, steals meat, usually lamb, but any will do.
[xiv] Appearing on December 24th, leaving on 6th Jan, steals children’s sweets.
Antlers are for Reindeer! (and Elks)
If you would like to help save Ani from a fate (she says) worse than death, send your Letters to Santa, festive memories, short stories, flash fiction or poems to the Small Dog. She will post them every day through December until Christmas.
She would especially like to hear from her four-legged or feathered friends (she has a special place very close to her heart for turkeys)… but she says that two-legs are better than none, so she will accept submissions from humans too.
To get in touch, please use the form on the contact page or email Ani at firstname.lastname@example.org