This mid-winter festival business is a bit of a mish-mash these days. Christmas, Hannukah, Holidays, Solstice etc etc but all centered aorund the time of the winter solstice and the hope of returning spring (eventually). Hence we have a Winter Tree instead of a Christmas Tree but other wise it’s the same tinsel and glass balls.
It’s easy to find alternatives to the Chritian icons if, like us, you just do “something at mid-winter”, but a lot harder to find an alternative to Santa to bring the presents. Some of the alternative cultural characters seem to be pretty unpleasant what with witches and hags boiling naughty kids in the cauldron or dragging them away to the underworld.
But, once again those fine people in Iceland have come to the recue with the the Yule Lads (Jólasveinar) – 13 sons of trolls who visit nightly in the couple of weeks leading up to the main festival. Instead of socks, children in Iceland put a shoe in their bedroom window each evening. Every night one Yuletide lad visits, leaving sweets and small gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on how that particular child has behaved on the preceding day. Each Yuletide lad has a specific idiosyncrasy and will therefore behave in a unique manner on his duty night.
These seem jolly guys … and a free bit of chocolate every night for a fortnight seems quite acceptable.