A few weeks ago we talked about the Krampus (if you missed the article, click here!), one of the most famous, scary Yule stories. There is another creature around Yule and Christmas myths, called “the Yule Cat”, also known as Jólakötturinn in Iceland.
According to the legends, this terrifying creature is a big, hungry black cat, with bright white whiskers and hellish eyes. Its long tail makes it able to do enormous jumps, and it seems it likes to go around Iceland villages during the Xmas eve. At this point, you’re probably wondering why a big black cat should be frightening…Well, the reason behind this fame is that, it hunts humans instead of rats. Its victims’ profiles changed over centuries, even though they all share a common point; they weren’t able to get at least one new clothing item, as a present nor handmade. (If you ask me, this is a good excuse to tell partners when we do crazy shopping, but I haven’t said anything, uh!)
This scary cat myth began to spread widely around the Middle Age. It seems that during ‘800 was used as a trick to encourage workers to finish the wool processing before the New Year’s Eve. Those who managed to work intensively were rewarded with a new cloth, safe from the Yule cat claws!
There’s another version of this legend. Here the “Yule Cat” was the loyal pet of the mountain trolls Grýla and Leppalúði and their 13 children, the “Yule Lads“, that were constantly hungry of naughty children. For this reason, according to this version, the cat usually attacked the more rebellious and lazy kids that didn’t help their parents to make their new Xmas cloth.
It’s not a piece of news that the story-telling often changes over time. The stories about this terrifying cat reached a level of cruelty that an edict was issued during 1764 forbid people to tell this story to scare children. Obviously, people couldn’t resist the charm of folklore, so this measure wasn’t really useful. Not many moons later, the edict itself had been cancelled.
But it’s not over yet! There is a third version of this myth, way less cruel. In this one, the Yule Cat’s victims weren’t humans without a new cloth, but only their Xmas dinners. Can we blame it in front of food? Of course not.
I’d say there are no doubts about the evilness of this creature. However, I always like to look at the positive message that these type of stories usually hide. In this case, I think that the real purpose of it wasn’t to scare children or speed up the workers… There’s a deeper and meaningful message. It urges, in fact, to help the less fortunate people by giving them a Xmas present and be altruistic… “so that they can be safe from those claws”. In my opinion, this message can still be applied nowadays: poverty is running wild and altruism is getting rarer and rarer.
There is an event in Reykjavík called “The Illumination of Yule Cat”. If you’re around that area, I’d have a look!
I hope you enjoyed this story and that you caught its message as I did! I’ll see you soon with more contents about myths and folklore around the world! Is there a particular story that you would like to see here? Let me know in the comments!