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 wintery weather.
Families in Iceland work together to ensure nobody will “go to the Christmas Cat”.
This terrifying Christmas Cat is also referred to as the Yule Cat.
The idea is that 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.
Terrifying… but effective!
There is a beloved poem 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 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.