by Barbara George –Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Many countries have folklore tales around this time of year, and many of these have their basis in moral values; be good and kind and receive a reward, otherwise something terrible may happen.
Iceland has a tradition of new clothes for Christmas, or at least one new item of clothing to wear on Christmas Eve. Children who have completed all their tasks receive new clothes. This motivates children to work hard and adults to provide for their children, making Icelanders some of the hardest-working people. As well, everyone is encouraged to provide for those who cannot support themselves, thus promoting a sense of caring.
Jólakötturinn is the Yule Cat of Iceland, and is part of their Christmas tradition. He is not a nice cat, rather big, vicious, hungry, and monster-ish, who tends to lurk around the snowy countryside around Christmas. He has been associated with other figures from Icelandic folklore as the house pet of the giantess Grýla and her sons, the Yule Lads.
When Jólakötturinn comes to check, all children who do not have something new to wear on Christmas Eve are seen as lazy, and therefore he eats them. Some versions of the story have the Cat only eating all the food and treats of people without new clothes. While this may seem less frightening, it is still a fairly severe punishment; either of these options gives Icelanders a good reason to work hard and be caring and considerate!
The threat of being eaten by the Yule Cat was used by farmers as an incentive for their workers to finish processing the autumn wool before Christmas. The ones who took part in the work would be rewarded with new clothes, but those who did not would get nothing and thus would be preyed upon by the monstrous cat.
So, please be nice to your cats this Christmas, and make sure they have a good plate of food and a warm and safe place to sleep, just in case they are at all related to Jólakötturinn, the Icelandic Yule Cat.
This poem ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they too can have the protection of new clothing.
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 colourful 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.