Australian psychologists recently warned that telling children that Father Christmas brings them presents could cause them to distrust their parents. Pity then, the Icelandic child who is told to put a shoe in the window to receive presents from not one but thirteen visitors. Pity too the parents expected to come up with thirteen gifts before the main event on Christmas Eve. Might this explain why Iceland has the highest use of anti-depressants among OECD countries?

These Yule Lads are the children of Gryla, a child-eating troll, who also ate her second husband. One by one, day by day, from the 12th to the 24th December, they do the rounds of children’s houses. A well-behaved child will find some small gift, a pen, some stickers or a satsuma. A badly behaved child will get a potato. The child of a banker, at least before the 2008 crash, might have got an iPod.

The Yule Lads are a pretty motley crew of North European Christmas monsters. They have straightforward, descriptive names like Sheep Worrier, Door Slammer, Window Peeper, Sausage Stealer and Bowl Licker. My favourite is Meat Hook, who sounds like a distant cousin of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface, who incidentally was also Icelandic (or at least the actor who played him was). The modern incarnations of the Yule lads are pranksters and thieves, though their antecedents were as sinister as their mother.

There is one final visitor. The Christmas Cat comes to any child who hasn’t received at least one item of clothing. It sounds rather comforting, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the Christmas Cat is another child-eater and any kid without any new clothes is a gonner. When I accidentally let slip that it was us who left things in the shoe, my daughter was thrilled.....