Meet Grýla, the Christmas Troll Who Eats Iceland's Naughtiest Children

Grýla and Leppalúði installations in Akureyri, Iceland
Grýla and Leppalúði installations in Akureyri, Iceland
David Stanley, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In Iceland, naughty children don't just get lumps of coal during the Christmas season. Sometimes, they get eaten. Meet Grýla, the fearsome fairy tale ogre that keeps Icelandic kids toeing the line during the holidays.

The Christmas Witch, as some English-language sources call her (like Smithsonian magazine, which took a fun dive into the myth in 2017) is actually more like the Christmas Troll, one of many scary, man-eating trolls featured in Icelandic folk tales. During jól, Iceland's Christmas season, she supposedly comes down from her cave in the mountains to gather up ill-behaved kids for her and her lazy and browbeaten husband Leppalúði to make into stew.

Folk tales and poems about Grýla have been around since at least the Middle Ages, according to British folklore researcher Jacqueline Simpson's 1972 book Icelandic Folktales and Legends. In Icelandic folklore, trolls are stupid giants, most of whom are very dangerous and actively hate Christianity. They're usually used to explain rock formations, which many legends claim are either trolls turned to stone or stones thrown by a troll at a church. In the 13th century, the word grýla was a general term for a she-troll, but eventually, it came to name a specific, child-eating monster.

The legends don't agree on what, exactly, Grýla might look like, though like all Icelandic trolls, she's a gross, massive giant. One rhyme says she has 15 tails, each of which holds 100 bags with 20 children in each bag, doomed to be a feast for the troll's family. Another says she has 40 tails, and still another says she carries a bag of children on her thigh. Some poems say she has 300 heads, each of which has three eyes. Others describe eyes in the back of her head, ears that hang so long that they hit her in the nose, a matted beard, blackened teeth, and hooves. All these stories agree on one point: She's very, very ugly.

Grýla isn't a standalone figure in Icelandic folklore, though. She is the mother of the Yule Lads, 13 mischief makers that supposedly visit on the 13 days of Christmas. Her companion, the Jólakötturinn—the Yule Cat—is said to have a taste for human flesh himself, lurking in the snowy countryside and gobbling up anyone, adults or children, who didn't get any clothes for Christmas—a sign that they didn't work hard enough.

Grýla functions as a cautionary tale, but most adults don't really believe in her, unlike, say, elves, which a number of modern Icelanders consider an important and very real part of their culture. As Simpson writes in the introduction to her book, even hundreds of years ago, "parents taught their children to fear the bugbear Grýla, but did not believe in her themselves."

Some tales have softened Grýla's image over the years. In an episode of Netflix's The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, for instance, she's presented as a powerful witch who protects mistreated children, not a monster who's intent on devouring them. She's now depicted in statues and Christmas installations all over Iceland—even at airports—but in many cases, she retains at least a little of her scary vibe.

Love Yuletide monsters? Take our quiz to find out which legendary Christmas figure you're most like.

25 Awesome Pet Halloween Costumes You Can Buy Right Now

Frisco
Frisco

As much fun as it is to dress up in a Halloween costume, it’s even more satisfying to throw one on your favorite four-legged companion. For one glorious day, you can turn your dog or cat into a vampire, a superhero, a Jedi, or even a taco, and it’s seen as completely normal. But picking out the right dog or cat costume can be difficult, especially with all of the choices available. Here, we’ve got 25 awesome cat and dog Halloween costumes you can get at Petco, Chewy, Target, and Walmart.

1. Wonder Woman Dog Costume

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Wonder Woman Dog Costume.
DC Comics

Turn your pooch into an Amazonian warrior with this ensemble that carries the colors and familiar tiara of Wonder Woman. Steve Trevor sold separately.

Buy it: Petco

2. Superman Illusion Dog Suit

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Superman Dog Costume.
DC Comics

Superpups won’t need a phone booth to dash into with this illusion suit that mimics that iconic transformation of Clark (Bark) Kent into Superman. (Note: Glasses do not have corrective lenses.)

Buy it: Petco 

3. Batman Dog T-Shirt

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Batman Dog Costume.
DC Comics

If your pet is low on patience when it comes to elaborate costumes, consider this minimalist approach. A Bat-symbol emblazoned on the back shows off support for vigilante justice.

Buy it: Petco 

4. DC's Batman Illusion Dog Suit

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Batman Dog Costume.
DC Comics

Your doggo probably never got to know their parents, which is at least one thing they have in common with Bruce Wayne. Avenge Gotham with this padded costume that gives your pet better abs than yours.

Buy it: Petco 

5. Batman Dog Bandana

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Batman Dog Costume.
DC Comics

The Bat-logo stands out against a yellow background in this pup-friendly kerchief for dogs that prefer sleeveless attire.

Buy it: Petco

6. Superman Dog Bandana

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Superman Dog Costume.
DC Comics

Is your heroic hound ready to cast off his glasses, quit his job as a newspaper reporter, and share his true identity with the world? This bandana is the classiest way to do it.

Buy it: Petco

7. Spider-Man Hoodie

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Spider-Man Dog Costume.
Marvel

While the debate over which Spider-Man did it best—Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, or Tobey Maguire—rages on, the clear winner is about to be your dog wearing this costume.

Buy it: Petco

8. Jack-o'-Lantern Dog Hoodie

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Pumpkin Jack o Lantern Costume.
Bootique

Because carving jack-o'-lanterns is hard, turn your pup into a “pupkin” instead with this easy pullover Halloween hoodie.

Buy it: Petco

9. Cookie Monster

Best Pet Halloween Costumes. Cookie Monster Dog Costume.
Pet Krewe

The perfect outfit for the pooch who won’t take their eyes off your cookie even though they definitely can’t have chocolate.

Buy it: Petco

10. Toast of the Town

Best Halloween Costumes for Dogs.
Bootique

This oh-so-extra outfit is ideal for trendy millennial pets who know that the secret to happiness lies between two thick slices of avocado toast. The “Flaming Dawg Hot Sauce” headband is just icing on the cake … er, hot sauce on the toast.

Buy it:Petco

11. King Purrington

Get the best cat halloween costumes of 2019.
Bootique

Your cat doesn't need to dress like royalty to know they’re in charge, so let this king costume serve as a reminder to everyone else in the house. Just don't be surprised if your cat starts acting haughtier than usual after sporting a cape and crown for a few hours.

Buy it:vPetco

12. Lion Mane

Lion mane cat costume.
Pet Krewe

Halloween is a chance for your pet to look as ferocious as they feel all year long. But be warned: This lion mane costume will probably illicit more "awws" than screams.

Buy it: Petco

13. "Witch, Please!" Dog Hat

Witch hat dog Halloween costume.
Bootique

Spookiness, sassiness: This witch hat for dogs—complete with a lime-green wig and the words "Witch, please!" emblazoned on the band—has it all.

Buy it: Petco

14. Teddy Bear Dog Costume

Teddy bear dog costume for Halloween 2019.
Bootique

Your dog can become a bit more squeezable when you dress it up like a plush teddy bear—complete with little arms, legs, and ears.

Buy it: Petco

15. Dog & Cat Sombrero

Cat and dog sombreros for Halloween 2019.
Frisco

The best part about this sombrero for your cat or dog is that there’s no reason why you can’t strap it on their head even after Halloween is over. They may hate you for it, but the look on their face will make a great photo op (see above).

Buy it: Chewy

16. Cat Devil Costume

Cat devil costume for Halloween 2019.
Frisco

Every cat has a touch of evil in them, so indulge them this Halloween with the set of horns they've earned throughout the year.

Buy it: Chewy

17. Cat & Dog Vampire Cape

A dog dressed in a vampire Halloween costume.
Frisco

Simple but effective—turn your pet into an elegant count this Halloween with this red-lined black cape.

Buy it: Chewy

18. Taco Dog & Cat Costume

Taco dog Halloween costume for 2019.
Frisco

Your favorite pet dressed as your favorite food. Best of all, the entire taco costume comes in one piece, so you don’t have to worry about assembly being a hassle.

Buy it: Chewy

19. Dog or Cat Business Suit

Business suit dog costume.
Rubie's Costume Company

Chances are your pet will never have a high-powered office job, but that doesn’t mean they can’t dress the part. And don’t worry, the tie is attached to the costume, so your pup won't have to learn the Half-Windsor.

Buy it: Chewy

20. Skeleton Hoodie

Skeleton hoodie Halloween costume for dogs.
Hyde & EEK! Boutique

You really can’t go wrong with a classic like this skeleton hoodie. And with the ear holes in the hood, your pup will be comfy all Halloween long.

Buy it: Target

21. Ewok Dog Costume

Star Wars Halloween costumes for pets.
Rubie's Costume Company

Even the most jaded of Star Wars fans won’t be able to resist this simple costume that turns your dog into a fierce and fuzzy protector of Endor.

Buy it: Target

22. Jedi Robe

Star Wars Jedi Halloween costume for dogs.
Rubie's Costume Company.

A costume for a more civilized age, this Jedi pet robe is easy to slip on and adds a graceful elegance to any dog’s life. Just keep an eye on their paws—you don’t want to fall for that mind trick nonsense.

Buy it: Target

23. Jurassic World T. rex

Dinosaur Halloween Costume for Dogs.
Rubie's Costume Company

Cue the John Williams, because this T. rex costume is perfect for any dino-lovin’ Halloween freak out there. The kicker? The tiny arms, of course.

Buy it: Walmart

24. Yoda

Yoda Halloween costume for pets.
Rubie's Costume Company

You already know your pet is wise beyond its years, so slapping a Yoda costume on it is only natural. If you can’t fathom getting your cat or dog into the robe, you can opt for just the Yoda ears, too.

Buy it: Walmart

25. Blue Monster

Best dog and cat Halloween costumes.
Rubie's Costume Company

This Halloween, turn your pet into a furry beast—more so than usual. And if you don’t like the shock of bright blue hair, you can go for the pink version. It’s your money; embarrass your pup as you please.

Buy it: Walmart

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

14 Facts About International Talk Like A Pirate Day

iStock
iStock

Ahoy, me hearties! As many of you know, September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, an annual phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm, having been observed by every continent, the International Space Station, and even the Oval Office since it first made headlines back in 2002. So let’s hoist the Jolly Roger, break out the rum, and take a look back at the holiday’s timber-shivering history.

1. Talk Like a Pirate Day was originally conceived of on D-Day.

Talk Like a Pirate Day creators John Baur and Mark Summer (who’ve since acquired the nicknames “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy,” respectively) created the holiday while playing racquetball on June 6, 1995—the 51st anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Out of respect to the battle’s veterans, a new observance date was quickly sought.

2. September 19th also happens to be the birthday of the ex-wife of the holiday's co-creator.

“[September 19th was] the only date we could readily recall that wasn’t already taken up with Christmas or the Super Bowl or something,” the pair later claimed. Summers claims to harbor no ill will toward his former spouse, who has since stated, “I’ve never been prouder to be his ex-wife!

3. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry is largely responsible for popularizing the holiday.

Dave Barry was so smitten with the holiday after having been introduced to it via email in early 2002 that he dedicated an entire column to its publicity that September, turning an inside joke into a global sensation. He later went on to make a cameo appearance in one of Baur and Summers’s buccaneer-themed music videos in 2011 (look for him in the video above at the 3:25 mark).

4. Real pirates spoke in a wide variety of dialects.

Despite some extensive “English-to-Pirate” dictionaries that have cropped up all over the Internet the idea that all pirates shared a common accent regardless of national origin is historically absurd, as National Geographic pointed out in 2011.

5. Actor Robert Newton is hailed as the "patron saint" of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

So where did the modern “pirate dialect” come from? Summers and Baur credit actor Robert Newton's performance in Treasure Island (1950) and have accordingly dubbed him the “patron saint” of their holiday. Tasked with breathing life into the scheming buccaneer, Newton simply exaggerated his native West Country accent and the rest is history.

6. John Baur's family was featured on a pirate-themed episode of Wife Swap.

The reality show’s highly-anticipated 2006 season premiere pitted the Baurs (in full pillaging regalia) against a family which, according to John’s wife Tori (a.k.a. “Mad Sally”), “behaved as though ‘fun’ was something that had to be pre-packaged for their protection.”

7. John Baur was also on Jeopardy!

Baur was described to the audience as “a writer and pirate from Oregon” in his 2008 appearance. “I didn’t win,” Baur said, “but the introduction made Alex blink.”

8. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has become a cornerstone of the Pastafarian movement.

Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, cited Earth’s dwindling pirate population as the clear source of global warming in his 2005 open letter to the Kansas school board which established the religion. Since then, Talk Like A Pirate Day has been observed by devout Pastafarians worldwide. 

9. A Florida mayor once ignited a local controversy for making an official Talk Like a Pirate Day proclamation.

In 2012, Lake Worth, Florida Mayor Pam Triolo lightheartedly urged her constituents to embrace the holiday last year, writing, “The City … is known to possess a spirit of independence, high spirits, and swashbuckling, all traits of a good pirate.” Her actions were criticized by the city’s former commissioner, Jo-Ann Golden, who took offense to the association with murderous seamen.

10. Day of the Ninja was created in response to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Not to be outdone by their hated rivals, the pro-ninja community was quick to execute the first annual Day of the Ninja on December 5, 2002. For Summers and Baur’s take on the warring factions, see the clip above.

11. Pirates once celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day aboard the International Space Station.

In a 2012 interview, Summers recalled being “informed that the astronauts on the International Space Station were awakened to ‘A Pirate’s Life For Me' and joined in the pirate talk from space.”

12. President Obama once celebrated with a costumed buccaneer in the Oval Office.

In 2012, Barack Obama tweeted this image on Talk Like a Pirate Day with the caption “Arr you in?”

13. A congressman later used the holiday to slam President Obama's tax plan.

In 2011, Florida’s 12th congressional district representative Dennis Ross used the festivity as a political punchline after Obama made a speech detailing his tax plan, tweeting, “It is TALK like a pirate day … not ACT like one. Watch ye purses and bury yr loot, the taxman cometh.”

14. It's an official holiday in the state of Michigan.

On June 4, 2013, state senator Roger Kahn’s proposal to grant International Talk Like A Pirate Day official acknowledgement from the Michigan government was formally adopted, to the chagrin of some dissenting landlubbers. 

This story originally ran in 2013.

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