Name: Jólakötturinn / Yule Cat
From: Icelandic Folklore
Classification: A giant man-eating house cat that preys on people at Christmas.
Tis the Christmas season and with being in the mood this year for some Christmas cheer I decided to devote the next few week’s Monstrous Mondays to Christmas. Within the shadows cast by twinkling Christmas lights live many a dark beast ready to prey upon our cheers and fears.
The Jólakötturinn -or- Yule Cat is a giant, monstrous creature that resembles a house cat in all its details except size. The Jólakötturinn roams the snow covered countryside looking for all manner of people (not just children this time around) who are wearing dirty and old clothes during the Advent. If the Jólakötturinn found someone wearing old clothes it would attack and eat them.
The folklore of the Jólakötturinn was mostly a tale that focused on the Icelandic countryside and its peoples. Hardworking men and women with their children were finishing up their sheep shearing and ending their farming season for the year and Christmas time was the time they finally saw a return on all of their hard work. Hard work would equal more crops, wool, food, and wares to sell, which in turn meant that they had more money to spend on new clothes for the year. For a working class people who had so little, new clothes were a sign of prosperity.
For only hard working men, women, and children received new clothes at Christmas, lazy individuals received nothing and had a target on their heads for the Jólakötturinn. It was common place for ranchers or farmers to tell their workers and families alike to “work harder or the Jólakötturinn would get them”.
To make matters worse the Jólakötturinn was the pet of the giantess Grýla and her 13 sons, the Jólasveinarnir -or- Yule Boys. With the addition of the Jólakötturinn in the early part of the 19th century to Grýla’s brood, Christmas time is a scary time for Icelandic children. We’ll get to the rest of this gristly troll family later.
Over the decades the lore of the Jólakötturinn has been lost to time, that was until poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a collection of Christmas themed poems which included poems about the Jólakötturinn, Grýla, and the Jólasveinarnir called “Christmas Is Coming – Verse For Children” in 1932. Kötlum is credited with defining the myths surrounding these Christmas beasts, as much as Clement Clarke Moore is credited for defining Santa Claus in his poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” -or- “Twas The Night Before Christmas” as it was later renamed.
The folklore of the Jólakötturinn has gotten so popular in recent years that in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavík they have projections of the Jólakötturinn and the rest of Grýla’s brood shining on buildings and hidden in the nooks and crannies of the city. It’s all part of a city wide “quest game” to get people out and about at Christmas time.
Icelandic singer Björk also sang a version of the poem about the monstrous Yule Cat, entitled ” Jólakötturinn”. Using the original poem for lyrics the music was written by the Ingibjörg Thorbergs. Here is a video of the song with translated lyrics for you to read.
Also there is a neat little short entitled the “Yule Cat” that was created by Justine East and features a score by Danny Elfman. I can’t find an embedded version of the video but here is a link.
And of course all of the awesome pieces of art people have done of the Jólakötturinn.
Nowadays the lore of the Jólakötturinn is also used to promote giving to the poor and homeless. There are clothing drives to give people new clothes to stave off the Jólakötturinn at Christmas time.
It is so great to see yet another great piece of folklore thrive nowadays, and for some reason I just love the calm and pure backdrop of Christmas being a breeding ground for horrific monsters and beasts.
See you next Monday for another scary Christmas monster Laundry Roommates.