I woke early this morning, as I did when a child many Christmas moons ago. Perhaps I was hoping to meet Bjúgnakrækir, or Sausage-Swiper, the ninth of thirteen Yule Lads who visit in the two weeks prior to December 25, according to Icelandic tradition. He might leave a gift in your shoe, depending on whether you’ve been naughty or nice. But mostly he hides in the rafters waiting for the chance to steal one of your smoked sausages. The Yule Lads are the original Bad Boys of Christmas.
In Icelandic folklore, the criminally inclined Yule Lads were the sons of terrifying mountain trolls who feasted on children. (Merry Christmas, kiddies!) But by the early 20th century they’d evolved into mischievous pranksters – with some help from poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum,Iceland’s answer to the Brothers Grimm. I discovered the Yule Lads in the airport as I was leaving the lovely city of Reykjavik last month, after an inspiring crime fiction weekend.
A week before Kris van der Veen was arrested in Russia, on suspicion of “promoting gay propaganda” to minors, he was reading about Ivan Dusak, or Ivan the Fool. A popular figure in Russian folklore dating back to the 16th century, Ivan is the youngest of three brothers who set out to seek their fortunes. Fairest of hair and bluest of eyes, Ivan is seen as simpleminded by his greed-driven siblings. But he follows his heart – always eager to help others, even if it puts himself at risk. Ivan’s naïve derring-do vanquishes the dastardly deeds of villains and wins the happily-ever-after love of princesses. Not such a fool after all. Kris van der Veen would be perfect casting.