Given the recent freezing temperatures in Iceland, a large amount of snow now covers the country. As the bright winter sunlight shines on the white fluffy blanket, sharp glistening icicles form and hang precariously from buildings.

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Although these icy structures arguably add to the winter wonderland experience, they simultaneously pose a threat to those that pass beneath them, a danger reflected in the Icelandic translation of their name.

The Icelandic word for an icicle, ‘Grýlukerti’ (Grýla’s candle), conjures the image of one of Icelandic folklore’s most feared characters: the evil, child-eating troll Grýla. She feeds exclusively on the young; collecting naughty children and cooking them in her cauldron so she can devour the disobedient all year long.

Mother to the famous thirteen Yule Lads, Grýla is said to live in the dark lava field fortress, Dimmuborgir, located in the popular sightseeing region of Mývatn in the North of Iceland. However, her hold on the nation’s youngsters knows no bounds.

The terrifying troll Grýla scares little children into behaving well.

Illustration by Haukur Valdimar Pálsson

Largely a tool to threaten disobedient children, the evil trolless’s name has evoked fear in the hearts of the Icelandic youth for centuries. She can be likened to the Bogeyman in that parents use the threat of a visit from Grýla to encourage naughty children to buck up their ideas and behave.

See Also: Folklore in Iceland

This infamous folklore character is particularly associated with Christmas in Iceland when her mischievous sons, the Yule Lads, descend the mountain to pester the population. Furthermore, she deploys her wicked pet, the Christmas Cat, to gobble up anyone unfortunate enough not to receive clothes for Christmas.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the long, icy daggers that accompany wintertime are associated with such a cold and ruthless character. Said to reside in a cave with her third husband, Leppalúði, legend has it that Grýla’s candles are made of ice, shedding as much warmth to her den as resides in her frozen heart.

Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons. Natasha2006

Although other words for ‘icicle’ do exist, none are more ubiquitous than ‘Grýlukerti’, and the term is used by both adults and children alike. As ‘Grýlukerti’ belie scary mythologies, so do their physical presence, posing a certain amount of danger to pedestrians as well as vehicles. 

See Also: Lessons in Icelandic | The Word Duglegur

Most house and shops owners are conscientious in their efforts to clear their buildings of these icy points, but it is always worth exercising caution while walking around town. Avoid passing directly beneath ledges bespoke with icicles and be careful where you leave your car as heavier specimens have been known to cause damage to parked vehicles.

First and foremost, if you find yourself in the dark lava fields at Dimmuborgir, beware the terrifying troll hostess Grýla and keep your children close.

Do you have a favourite word in Icelandic? Is there a particular word you would like to know more about? If you would like to further explore Icelandic language and culture, why not embark on a Culture Tour? Make sure to leave your thoughts and contributions in the facebook comments box below.