For those of you that have children, I am sure that there are many of you that sometimes wish that the little darlings would just sit down and behave. I appreciate that you all feel that your little angels are amazing, but as Christmas approaches, excitement peaks and they can get a little over exuberant with the prospect of Santa coming to deliver gifts. This may mean, on occasions, you have chosen to bribe them with the prospect of adding them to the naughty list if they don’t toe the line.
For children in Iceland, that threat seems to be a whole lot worse that a lump of coal being left instead of a gift.
Meet Grýla, mother of the Yule Lad. She was not introduced as a Christmas monster, until the 17th Century, but has been in stories to scare children since the 13th century. She managed to be bless with the Yule Lads, and also has an evil Yule Cat and a husband (he just happens to be her third husband, she ate the previous two because they bored her), and they all live in the mountains, now waiting for December to come around, so that they can come down from the mountains and cause havoc for naughty children.
Þórarinsson painting is a vivid and harrowing one. Its dark tones and moody lighting, giving it an even more sinister feel as Grýla is shown eating a child as the mother looks on from the door. The facial expression of Grýla, is almost stoic in her actions, there is no guilt or joy in the action she is taking, as she feeds her insatiable hunger for children’s flesh. The mother’s face is almost masked by the background light, but she doesn’t appear to be panicked or upset that her child is being devoured, almost as if it is a fact of life.
Legend says that Grýla is a giant, and she is able to detect naughty children all year round, lending itself to a good threat for Icelandic parents as an annual reason to get children to behave. Though not seen in this painting (because honestly it is probably terrifying enough), she is said to have hooved feet, and thirteen tails. She is in a perpetual bad mood, due to her hunger (which quite honestly I can relate to…I have been known to get hangry), and she might make the odd snack of kids along the way, but prefers to stuff them in a sack, take them back up the mountain and stew them up, because it just isn’t enough to eat them, they have to be boiled first to add to their suffering.
Now this all sounds absolutely terrifying, especially if you were an Icelandic child, and in 1746 the government had to step in and put a ban on Grýla being used as an intimidation tactic as children were so scared of being eaten that the refused to leave their homes. Since then, Grýla has softened a little, and if you read yesterdays post, you will know she now sends her thirteen sons down the mountain to spread holiday cheer rather than fear.
So, next time your children are misbehaving, spare a thought for the kids of Iceland who have the terror of Grýla, to keep them in check.
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