Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Yule Cat

The oldest written sources on the Yule Cat are from the Nineteenth Century. These refer to the fact that those who do not get a new item of clothing for Yule are destined to become offerings for the Yule Cat. It may sound strange that the deprived ones will also become the sacrifices, but this tradition is based on the fact that every effort was made to finish all work with the Autumn wool before Yule. The reward for those who took part in the work was a new piece of clothing. Those who were lazy received nothing. Thus the Yule Cat was used as an incentive to get people to work harder.

A woman describes a scene from her youth in the last century thus: "We were lazy doing this chore. Then we were reminded of the Yule Cat. We thought that was some terrible beast and the last thing we wanted was to be one of his offers".

One of Iceland's most beloved poets in this century, Jóhannes úr Kötlum, wrote a lay about the Yule Cat. It follows in the translation of Vignir Jónsson, who says: "You'll have to forgive me but I didn't make it rhyme - I'm not much of a poet."

      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 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.!


  1. My friend, I have never heard of the Yule Cat before! Love the poem! I better get some new clothes! I just bought underwear, I hope that counts ;o) Blessings ;o)

  2. LOL! Sure does, Stacy!!!

    Blessings to you always,