In Iceland, Grýla the Troll Eats Naughty Children on Christmas

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If you’re a naughty kid who finds coal in his stocking instead of gifts, well…count yourself lucky. If you lived in Iceland, you just might have been eaten by a troll instead.

Human-eating trolls feature heavily in many Icelandic myths, and during jól (Christmas season in Iceland), a Christmas troll named Grýla comes down from her mountain cave to gather all of the naughty children.


Then she hauls them back home to her lazy, nagged husband to turn into a holiday stew.

Stories of her antics have been around since at least the Middle Ages, and, according to experts on local mythology, Icelandic trolls are typically stupid but dangerous giants who actively hate Christianity and Christians. Early folk used them to explain rock formations (legends would claim they were trolls turned to stone).

Sometime in the 13th century, the general word for a she-troll – grýla – became the name of a specific troll who ate children around the holidays.

Which only goes to prove that, even hundreds of years ago, people needed a way to keep their kids in line at Christmastime.


Like all trolls, Grýla is gross and huge, but she might also have 15 (or 40) tails to hold her many bags of naughty children, 300 heads with 3 eyes each, eyes on the back of her head, long ears, a beard, black teeth, and/or hooves – all depending on who tells the story.

So, I mean, they agree that she’s super ugly and scary, which is the point.

Despite her looks, Grýla is the mother of the 13 Yule Lads, who visit on the 13 days of Christmas, and she owns a cat called Jólakötturinn, who devours people who didn’t get clothes for Christmas (because they didn’t work hard enough).


As with Santa Claus, Grýla is a cautionary tale used to get children to behave, not a creature adults believe in themselves.

You can see her depicted in statues and other artwork all over Iceland – even in airports – and you won’t have any trouble seeing why Icelandic kids are probably very, very nice when the season is upon them.

I’m inspired to be a little kinder myself, even!