There she was, caterwalling like a stabbed pig, swaggering down the concrete steps towards bugeyed, startled children – Grýla, in all her disheveled glory – hair matted, spiked in all directions; face distorted and smudged with dirt; eyes wild with fire; clothing tattered, torn; arms flailing; pots tied to her leg with bits of knotted rope, clanging, heralding her arrival.
There she was, screeching at the top of her lungs, “Where are all the naughty children? I’m hungry, I EAT naughty children.” Who was this apparition, this deranged phantom and what was she doing here at the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto’s (ICCT) annual Christmas party?
This was Grýla, the cantankerous mother of the 13 Christmas Lads, who had come down from the mountains – as she does every year – to tell the children that her sons, the pranksters – Sheep Worrier, Gully Gawk, Stubby, Pot Licker, Spoon Licker, Bowl Licker, Door Slammer, Skyr Glutton, Sausage Stealer, Window Peeper, Door Sniffer, Meat Hook and Candle Beggar – would soon be visiting them again.
“If you believe in them, and you’ve been good, the Lads, my sons, won’t do you no harm. Especially if you leave them treats. They’re hungry, you know. You know about putting out your shoe, don’t you, starting on the night of December 11th and for the next 12 nights? If you put your shoe by the window, one of my lads will put a small surprise in it for you. If you’ve been bad, he’ll leave a potato. Enough of this for now – who wants to come with me to the sheep stable where I’ll recite you a rhyme about my 1st lad who likes to chase sheep?”
So began actor, singer and teacher, Edda Kristansson’s magical tour of Riverdale Farm, an annual Christmas event organized by the ICCT. Following a lunch at a nearby restaurant, families wander over to Riverdale Farm where they are met by Grýla who introduces her lads, one by one, as she leads her party, in Pied Piper fashion, from the sheep stable to the duck pond, past the cows and donkey, down deep into the valley and then back up to the 150-year-old farm house where they peep in the windows to see the Christmas goodies that Window Peeper will be looking for. Along the way, Grýla voraciously licks a pot, a spoon and a bowl, as will her sons, each time offering the astounded children a chance to do the same. “How gross,” says Valdi. “Ooh, yuck,” echoes Freyja. “Grýla’s awesome,” pronounces Sami.
The last stop on the tour is by the horses where the children meet a character that is a combination of Candle Beggar and Santa Claus – a new mythical figure that has emerged form the blending of Icelandic and North American cultures.
By the end of the tour, the initially astonished and somewhat frightened children have become mesmerized and captured by the ancient stories.
They have entered Grýla’s world and compete to hold her pots and to have their turn at staggering with her staff.