Gully Gawk was in a sour mood. For hundreds of years he had been able to practice his habit of hiding in gullies, sneaking into cowsheds and stealing buckets filled with cow’s milk. He had been able to drink the creamy froth on top without anyone noticing. But times had changed. There were hardly any buckets to be found in cowsheds anymore because the cows were milked by machine or automatic milking systems. And the worst part: His favourite cowshed – Vogafjós – had become a popular café where visitors could watch the cows through huge windows! It was impossible for the timid Gully Gawk to prowl about unseen at this day and age. Gully Gawk was strongly built and the largest of the 13 Yule Lad brothers. He was fond of children. Their presence didn’t bother him, but he didn’t want any adults around; they immediately chased him out of cowsheds if they caught him red-handed.
After a sleepless night in his cave in Dimmuborgir, Gully Gawk got up at daybreak and climbed up a hill overlooking the lava field which he called home. Deep in thought, he took in the view of the surrounding countryside as the first rays of the winter sun cast its golden light on the snow-covered landscape. In the distance he caught sight of a tractor driving a haybale to a field. Suddenly, a herd of horses came running. There were quite a few of them and Gully Gawk thought he saw a few foals, too, playing around and jumping about. Then an idea struck him: Were the mares still milking? In that exact moment, one of the foals ran to its mother and started suckling.
Gully Gawk felt ecstatic. He waited impatiently for the farmer to finish removing the plastic covering from the haybale and be on his way. Then he ran into the cave where his mother, Grýla, was making porridge for breakfast and rummaged about in the kitchen until he found what he was looking for: An old milk can! Then he barged into the storeroom and grabbed a loaf of rye bread wrapped in a dish cloth, knocking cans off the shelf in the process. “What’s the rush?” Grýla asked annoyed. “I’m going to get some mare milk!” Gully Gawk shouted as he ran out the cave. Fast as lighting, he sped through Dimmuborgir, and progressed towards the horse field as quickly as his long legs could carry him. When he was getting closer, he slowed down and crept over the fence.
The herd was in a state of calm, still feeding by the haybale. One of the mares had separated from the group and stood aside with her foal. Gully Gawk walked slowly towards them. They observed the unkempt troll-like lad as he approached and seemed to contemplate whether they should make a run for it when he showed them the bread. They accepted the treat and he petted them gently on the neck. The foal nibbled at his woolen sweater and he burst out laughing. It was all good fun until the mare realized what he was planning to do with the milk can. She was not amused. “Come now,” he encouraged her and petted her backside. “Won’t you help a poor, old Yule Lad? I just need a little milk froth.”
The mare pitied Gully Gawk and stood still while he tried to milk her with his clumsy fingers. He had never had to milk any cows himself, after all. The mare eventually grew irritated, snorted and stamped her hindleg. Finally, Gully Gawk became desperate, and discovered the right method so the milk trickled from the teats into the can.
When the can was a quarter full, Gully Gawk thanked the mare and foal, feeding them the remaining bread. Then he drank the lukewarm mare milk so greedily that it spilled onto his beard. He licked it clean and smacked his lips. It was so yummy; even sweeter than cow’s milk! Gully Gawk ran happily back to his cave, determined to pay a visit to the horses again before next Christmas.
According to legend, the 13 Yule Lads (or “jólasveinar” in Icelandic) are the offspring of an awful child-eating ogress called Grýla and her good-for-nothing husband, Leppalúði. Originally, at Yuletide, the Yule Lads came to town to steal food and terrorize children. Nowadays, they also leave presents behind in their shoes, starting 13 nights before Christmas.
For more than a decade, the Icelandic Yule Lads have welcomed visitors to their home in Dimmuborgir lava field near Mývatn in North Iceland every day from 1-24 December. For more information, go to visitmyvatn.is.
We would like to thank Safari Horse Rental for their assistance with this Christmas story.
Text by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir
Photos by Gunnar Freyr Gunnarsson
PS: Here you can read about the adventures of another Yule Lad, Stiff-Leggy, who stole a horse.