Christmas legends make the freezing nights pass faster, the children behave, and sometimes push laborers to produce more and work harder. Iceland’s Jólakötturinn, or Yule Cat, warned lazy children — or the offspring of unproductive employees — would be eaten by a monster feline, which has roots hundreds of years back, and popularized by a poem by Johannes ur Kotlum.
The Christmas Cat of Iceland – a giant terrifying cat that gobbles up children if they’re bad
At Christmas time in Iceland, families give warm clothing to each member of their household.
According to legend, there is a frightening Christmas Cat who stalks the snowy countryside and gobbles up anyone not equipped for the cold and wintry weather.
Families in Iceland work together to ensure nobody will “go to the Christmas Cat.” This terrifying feline is also referred to as the Yule Cat [from the Norse word “Jul” meaning wheel, as in the Pagan Christmas wreath or Wheel of Fate, cycle of seasons, rebirth of light at winter solstice]. Each year, families gift each other new and warm clothes for the winter, and make the Yule cat an offering of some warm weather gear. If not, the Yule cat will gobble you up like some fishy treats.
The message is passed down to children, who are taught to work hard, and if they don’t/are bad children – the Christmas Cat will eat them. [ The ploy can also work when manipulating their workers.]
Terrifying… but effective!
The threat of being eaten by the monster Jólakötturinn, the Yule Cat, was used by farmers as an incentive for their workers to finish processing the autumn wool before Christmas. The ones who took part in the work would be rewarded with new clothes, but those who did not would get nothing and thus would be preyed upon by the monstrous cat. — Wikipedia
Björk – Jólakötturinn – Hvít Er Borg Og Bær – Icelandic Christmas Cat – (1987)
There is a beloved poem [by the agents of control] about the Yule Cat by Johannes ur Kotlum which describes the huge cat’s sharp teeth and glaring yellow eyes along with the belief that one must work hard for Christmas [fear-induced labor exalting capitalist consumerism] to avoid being punished by the Yule Cat. Here’s the whole poem:
You all know the Yule Cat
And that Cat was huge indeed.
People didn’t know where he came from
Or where he went.
He opened his glaring eyes wide,
The two of them glowing bright.
It took a really brave man
To look straight into them.
His whiskers, sharp as bristles,
His back arched up high.
And the claws of his hairy paws
Were a terrible sight.
He gave a wave of his strong tail,
He jumped and he clawed and he hissed.
Sometimes up in the valley,
Sometimes down by the shore.
He roamed at large, hungry and evil
In the freezing Yule snow.
In every home
People shuddered at his name.
If one heard a pitiful “meow”
Something evil would happen soon.
Everybody knew he hunted men
But didn’t care for mice.
He picked on the very poor
That no new garments got
For Yule – who toiled
And lived in dire need.
From them he took in one fell swoop
Their whole Yule dinner
Always eating it himself
If he possibly could.
Hence it was that the women
At their spinning wheels sat
Spinning a colorful thread
For a frock or a little sock.
Because you mustn’t let the Cat
Get hold of the little children.
They had to get something new to wear
From the grownups each year.
And when the lights came on, on Yule Eve
And the Cat peered in,
The little children stood rosy and proud
All dressed up in their new clothes.
Some had gotten an apron
And some had gotten shoes
Or something that was needed
– That was all it took.
For all who got something new to wear
Stayed out of that pussy-cat’s grasp
He then gave an awful hiss
But went on his way.
Whether he still exists I do not know.
But his visit would be in vain
If next time everybody
Got something new to wear.
Now you might be thinking of helping
Where help is needed most.
Perhaps you’ll find some children
That have nothing at all.
Perhaps searching for those
That live in a lightless world
Will give you a happy day
And a Merry, Merry Yule.
The Ogress Gryla and Her Yule Cat
Iceland is no stranger to frightening folklore. Perhaps living through days of prolonged darkness will make any culture believe in trolls and ogres. In fact, there is another Icelandic tradition regarding the trickster Yule Lads and their [mountain goat/troll] mother Grýla [dating from stories in the 13th Century, along with her third husband Leppalúði] who kidnaps, cooks, and eats disobedient kids. In that legend, Grýla is the Yule Cat’s owner as well. It’s one big, baby-eating family for Icelandic Christmas!
H-T Maryanne Knight