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What the Yule Boys Have Brought Me

by Gay Strandemo

Author Heidi Herman and I once again team up at Samtal Hour to discuss the Icelandic Yule Boys - Jólasveinar. To join us learn more here: SAMTAL HOUR INFO

Link to a recording of Gay reading The Yule Boys

In a previous article written for Icelandic Roots, titled, Bringing the Yule Boys into my Home, I talked about growing up without much knowledge of my Icelandic ancestors or the customs of that country. Much has changed since then regarding my knowledge of Icelandic heritage and culture.

The first time I ever used the platform Zoom was for an Icelandic Roots presentation about the Yule Boys, presenting with Heidi Herman, a seasoned author. She also has books about the Jólasveinar*. I was nervous, but thanks to the setting up of Sunna Furstenau, the sure-handedness of Doug Hanson and David Johnson, and the fun of planning with Heidi, things went well. That led to joining both Icelandic Roots and INLUS -- meeting many nice people during Kaffi Timi, Samtal Hour, Icelandic language classes, and the Icelandic Roots Writers Group. And eventually – meeting up in person.

I first met Dianne O’Konski on Zoom, but later at a Nordic festival in Burnsville, Minnesota, where my husband Tracy and I were selling books. And Heidi Herman, a fellow vendor at the event, was there too.

Heidi and I will again be presenting at the Icelandic Roots Samtal Hour on Monday, December 5th. See more details HERE.

My mother grew up in North Dakota, and I’d traveled there many times, but I had never been to Gardar or Mountain. Now, Tracy and I have been there twice – selling books and attending parades and events.

I have Sunna to thank for arranging to meet Bryndís Víglundsdóttir, an author who has many stories to tell. Together we created the book Guðríðer’s Saga, published by Will Publishing and Icelandic Roots. Bryndís and I are currently working together on more books, and certainly Tracy and I look forward to our shared work with her – it has been a joyful and fulfilling experience.

I feel so lucky to be part Icelandic. One of my fave TV shows is Finding your Roots, the PBS series hosted by Henry Louis Gates, where guests, often clueless about their family origins, have researchers dig into their ancestry to provide names, places and other enlightening details. Those of Icelandic origin certainly don’t have those mysteries for long after joining Icelandic Roots! I was amazed to look at records going back 1000 years – being related to chieftains in Dublin, warrior poets, adventurous women, and a many times great grandfather described as “the last Viking.” I’m also directly descended from Guðríður (as everyone with Icelandic ancestry is) of Guðríður's Saga and read about her life while illustrating Bryndís’ book. She was a woman who survived two shipwrecks, lived in new colonies, and walked to Rome. Sometimes when driving and nervously trying to take an unprotected left turn at a busy intersection, I think of Guðríður sailing on the North Atlantic and have to laugh at myself.

The adventure that started with The Yule Boys book has been as fun and magical as they are – thank you, boys!

*The first mention of the Jólasveinar can be found in the 17th-century Poem of Gryla. Previously, the number and depiction of the Jólasveinar varied greatly depending on location. They were used to frighten children into good behavior during the Yule, at first in a truly scary manner, but later softening into pranksters. In the late 18th century, a poem mentions 13 of them. In the mid-19th century, author Jon Arnason drew inspiration from the Brothers Grimm and began collecting folktales. His 1862 collection is the first mention of the names of the Jólasveinar.

Go to to purchase The Yule Boys and Guðríður's Saga. They make great gifts and are perfect for young and old alike.

Please join us for Samtal Hour on Monday, December 5th when Heidi Herman and I once again team up to discuss the Icelandic Yule Boys - Jólasveinar.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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