The Yule Cat – Iceland’s Terrifying Christmas Folklore

Santa – an Epitome of Kindness

We all know that Santa doesn’t bring presents to children who have been bad during the year. He only brings Christmas gifts to children who have been good all year long as a reward. This keeps the behavior of most children in line with acceptable social behavior which is what every parent is hoping for. Of course, it doesn’t work with all children, but still, most choose to go along with it.

What Do Bad Children Get for Christmas?

Some, however, simply don’t care about the gifts and aren’t terrified by anything when it comes to bad behavior. Unless they’re from Iceland where a terrifying local legend almost forces children to behave well. The so-called Yule cat (Jólakötturinn), eats not only children, but also adults who don’t receive clothes before Christmas. The whole tradition is a bit confusing because of the clothes unless you know more of Icelandic folklore. According to those legends, Icelandic families gift each other warm clothes for the winter in time for Christmas. If you didn’t receive any, you surely haven’t been acting that well. That goes for children and adults as well, and the punishment is a vicious attack by none other than the Yule cat.

The legend has been perpetuated in this following Yule cat 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.

Yule Cat 2

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.”

It seems that Iceland’s Christmas is as frightening as it gets. The animal has been depicted as a large cat-like creature with glowing eyes and a mouth and teeth bigger than a lion’s head. Similar depictions can be seen in more than one Yule cat book. Although virtually unknown in other parts of the world, Yule cat Iceland is a very popular story in Nordic countries.

Visit any Iceland town during Christmas and there’s a great chance you can find a cute Yule cat ornament.

Yule Cat 3

Iceland Not a Stranger to Scary Folklore

Many have drawn comparations between the Yule cat and Krampus, an equally terrifying Christmas monster in Central European folklore. Both stories are truly scary, certainly scarier than a jolly Santa who won’t get gifts to disobedient children. The Yule cat Iceland, however, is a bit more terrifying in our opinion.

Why? Well, a similar Icelandic folklore story speaks of so-called Yule lads, who, together with their mother Gryla, cook and eat disobedient children. It’s easy to guess that Gryla also owns the Yule cat who undoubtedly helps the scary grandma kill the children.

It certainly makes for a great story. It’s definitely very scary, so parents from Iceland surely have things easy when it comes to making their children obedient. If we only had such a creature in the USA, millions of children would certainly behave better.