We have noted the horrible Icelandic Yule lads, the gruesome bunch of trolls that terrorize children and steal food from hungry peasants around Christmas time. They were not the worst of the horrible creature that haunted my forebears though.
We have already mentioned that parents of the Yule lads, the horrible ogre Grýla who ate naughty children and her bedridden lazy no good husband Leppaludi. And there was their pet, the Christmas cat which I want to cover in slightly more detail.
Is it a goat? No it is a cat!
The Christmas cat is first mention in written records from the 19th century so he seems in that sense to be a more recent creation than the Yule lads. But it is no less cruel. He is probably “related” to various “christmas beasts” that are known in Scandinavia, for examples the Norwegians apparently have something called the Yule goat. Christmas in the Nordics is like a regular zoo if you come to think about it.
The terror of poor children
Anyway the Christmas cat MO is to observe people and especially children in the advent of Christmas. Those who didn´t get a new piece of clothing for Christmas would be harmed or eaten by his wild animal. The term for this horrible fate was simply to be “be claimed by the Christmas cat”
This would of course terrify children who worked diligently before Christmas to ensure that they would get at least new socks or mittens. As they would often be employed on the farms to make clothing this was the perfect form of social control. Adults would believe this as well as superstition was rife in Iceland of old. So imagine the terror of poor children who didn’t get a new piece of clothing for Christmas.
And for modern Icelanders, most of make sure we got something new for Christmas. I always get myself a new shirt.
And here is the renowned singer Björk singing about the hellish Christmas cat.
Picture by the artist Þórdís Tryggvadóttir
Written by Jón Heiðar Þorsteinsson