The Yule Cat – Hugleikur Dagsson

Today I am sticking with Iceland, simply because I have found their Christmas traditions quite entertaining.  So if the Yule Lads and Grýla weren’t scary enough for you, maybe the final in the trio will top off the Christmas fear factor for you.

The Yule Cat, or Jólakötturinn, presents another threat for all people in Iceland, not just children.  The cat roams the Icelandic countryside around Christmas time, as this is the only time he eats, waiting to find people who have not received a new item of clothing, ready to gobble them up.

I really like this simple but effective pen and ink drawing of this giant cat.  It’s eyes glowing in the snowy lands, towering over trees, looking for those who don’t get new clothes.

This legend stems from farmers, who wanted their workers to complete the collection of the autumn wood, if the workers finished the wood collection in time, they would be rewarded with new clothes.  The stories change from man eating cat, to just a cat that would eat your Christmas dinner, but the flesh hungry element was popularised in a poem by Jóhannes úr Kötlum :-

You know the christmas cat
– that cat is very large
We dont know where he came from
nor where he has gone
He opened his eyes widely
glowing both of them
it was not for cowards
to look into them
His hair sharp as needles
his back was high and bulgy                                                                                                          and claws on his hairy paw
were not a pretty sight
Therefore the women competed
to rock and sow and spin
and knitted colorful clothes
or one little sock
For the cat could not come
and get the little children
they had to get new clothes
from the grownups
When christmas eve was lighted
and the cat looked inside
the children stood straight and red-cheeked
with their presents
He waved his strong tail
he jumped, scratched and blew
and was either in the valley
or out on the headland
He walked about, hungry and mean
in hurtfully cold christmas snow
and kindled the hearts with fear
in every town
If outside one heard a weak “meaow”
then unluck was sure to happen
all knew he hunted men
and didnt want mice
He followed the poorer people
who didnt get any new clothing
near christmas – and tried and lived
in poorest conditions
From them he took at the same time
all their christmas food
and ate them also themselves
if he could
Therefore the women competed
to rock and sow and spin
and knitted colorful clothes
or one little sock                                                                                                                              Some had gotten an apron
and some had got a new shoe
or anything that was needful
but that was enough
For pussy should not eat no-one
who got some new piece of clothes
She hissed with her ugly voice
and ran away
If she still exists I dont know
but for nothing would be his trip
if everybody would get next christmas
some new rag
You may want to keep it in mind
to help if there is need
for somewhere there might be children
who get nothing at all
Mayhaps that looking for those who suffer
from lack of plentiful lights
will give you a happy season
and merry christmas

Danny Elfman did the music for a film short created by Justin East about the Yule Cat which can be seen here.

Regardless if you think that the cat will merely steal your dinner, or it has taken fashion policing to the extreme and will eat anyone not sporting a new set of socks or scarf, this is still another in the terrifying tradition.

What do you think of the Yule Cat?  Why not tell me in the comments?

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