Tradition holds that children who leave their shoe on a windowsill will get a small gift from whichever yule lad is in town that night or, if they’ve been naughty, a potato instead of a present.
You can just imagine the logistics behind this awesome endeavour - where do the yule lads shop? What do they give? How much should the presents cost? And how ripe should the potatoes be? We managed to get a hold of Stekkjastaur (Sheep-Cote Clod), the first of the yule lads to arrive, and asked him how on Earth he manages.
Stekkjastaur of course has ages of experience - literally! He’s always the first to arrive and has to begin preparations a bit sooner than his brothers. Here are his best tips for shoe gifts:
It doesn’t have to be expensive
Quite often, it’s the small and useful items that bring the most joy, something that the kids pick up regularly and reminds them of the joy of waking up, checking the window sill and discovering that the yule lads were there.
Don’t wait until the last minute
Shopping at gas stations and places that are open outside of regular opening hours is generally more expensive. This applies to shoe-shopping much as any other type of procurement. Choice picks can be snapped up quickly - the early Santa’s little helper catches the worm. Stekkjastaur knows this from experience.
Don't shop hungry
This is equally true for yule lads and parents.
A treat to eat
Many yule lads, like Bjúgnakrækir (Sausage Swiper), Ketkrókur (Meat Hook) and Askasleikir (Bowl Licker) are gourmets and like nothing better than giving food (though they’d never admit to parting with anything edible if asked). For them, the perfect shoe gift would be a small orange, home-baked cookies or other sweets.
Need anything for Christmas?
Nice socks or stockings, hair ornaments and other small items that can be used over the holidays are a good fit.
You can save by shopping for more than one kid at a time - it can be cheaper to buy in bulk than to buy individual items. Santa’s helpers who are related, are friends or have kids who are friends, can make shopping a joint venture.
Children compare notes
Kids will discuss what they got in their shoe with their friends. As household finances vary, it can be hurtful for children with less affluent parents to hear about more extravagant presents left in other shoes. It’s the thought that counts - the excitement and joy of discovering that the yule lads have visited - not the price tag of the present. Be mindful of others and keep it simple.
Let your heart be light
It's not a good idea to take on short-term loans (or microloans) to finance shoe gifts. This leads to more worry and trouble later. Think big but use the funds that you have wisely.
Initially published on the Forum (in Icelandic) 9 December 2014.