CREEPY CORNER: The Murderous Yule Cat and Friends

The socks and underwear you got from your Aunt Tabitha might have saved you from the Yule Cat!
Publish date:
December 14, 2016
Christmas, creepy corner, cats, myths, throwing away old clothes

During Christmas, I strive to be the "cool" aunt.

Not cool in the shades-and-skateboard way, but cool in the wouldn't-be-embarrassed-to-be-seen-with-at-the-mall way. So, politely tolerated?

I didn't think I would ever care about such things. I always figured that I'd just be rather mysterious to the kids in my family; the childless aunt that the kids would spin yarns about.

"Did you know Aunt Louise was born with an extra elbow? That's why she can't have kids."

"Nuh-uh, I heard she sold her soul to Tom Hanks, and that's why she had to move to Japan."

"No way, she was in a terrible jazz dancing accident and she had to choose between babies or the use of her tastebuds."

(They all nod in agreement.) "She really loves cheese."

But as I get older, and my nieces and nephews become aware of me as a human, I find myself really wanting them to like me.

I think it starts with the gifts.

There was always that relative while you were growing up, who gave you boring/bizarre clothes presents: the "arty" shirt with an appliqué otter on it because one time you said you liked "Otter Pops"; socks that said, "L.A. Girl" on them, even though you'd never set foot in L.A.; very billowy turquoise corduroy pants with a tennis playing Snoopy embroidered just above the fanny.

As far back as I can remember, getting clothes from relatives was never "fun" or "cool", it was a drag.

But maybe my relatives were onto something after all? Maybe my relatives were SAVING MY UNGRATEFUL ASS with the gift of those Snoopy pants?

After all, the Yule Cat hasn't eaten me yet.

Who's the Yule Cat, you ask?

The Yule Cat, or Jólakötturinn, is a giant, monstrous feline that prowls about Iceland during Christmas time, looking for his next meal.

What does the Yule Cat eat? Why, people who do not have new clothes, of course!

Since the middle ages, Iceland has told tale of an enormous black cat with "glowing bright eyes", "whiskers sharp as needles", and "razor sharp claws" who hunts and eats the "lazy and idle".

In ye olde times, the Yule Cat story was meant to strike fear into field workers and servants. If they got the "autumn wool" harvested and processed before Christmas, they would be rewarded with new clothing from their master. If a family had no master, the women would work everyday to make at least one new piece of clothing for everybody on their Christmas list.

A tamer variation of the legend says that the Yule Cat will not eat you if you don't have new clothes, but will instead eat all of your food. For poor workers and farmers, this was just as dire a consequence.

Additionally, the story warns children to be diligent little workers all the way up until Christmas day. If they were willful and disobedient, their parents wouldn't give them new clothes, and they would be fed to the Yule Cat.

Krampus and the Yule Cat have got to get together.

The origins of the Yule Cat are unclear. It seems there has been tell of him for centuries, but his first appearance in written record was during the 1800s.. And speaking of Yule animals or Anim-yules, there is also mention of a Yule Goat in Scandinavia: an invisible goat that would watch over Scandinavians making sure they were properly preparing for Christmas.

The Scandinavian tradition evolved to involve Yule Goat pranks, primarily one where a family would secretly stash a goat in another family's home. Such merriment!

The goat-"Punk'd" family would then have to dispose of the goat in the same manner in which they acquired said goat.

Over time, the Yule Goat was said to go door-to-door demanding gifts, before eventually becoming the giver of gifts in the 1800s. These days, a giant straw goat is often burned in Sweden as a symbol of the Christmas spirit.

But back to the Yule Cat.

The Yule Cat is said to be the Icelandic "ogress" Grýla's pet cat. Possessing hooves instead of feet, horns on her head, and 13 tails, Grýla lives in the mountains with her lazy husband, Leppalúöl. Leppalúöl is her third husband, as she ate her first two (they "bored" her).

Grýla and her faithful Yule Cat have something in common: they both crave the flesh of the disobedient. According to legend, the perpetually cranky Grýla comes down from her mountain every Christmas to put naughty children in her sack, and whisk them away to her lair. There, "she boils them alive for her favorite stew".

In other tellings, Grýla sends her sons, the Yule Lads

to keep tabs on Icelandic children for 13 days before Christmas. For 13 days, Grýla's 13 sons put candy in the shoes of good children and rotten apples or potatoes in the shoes of naughty children. The Yule Lads would also play pranks on the people of Iceland, the types of which are indicated by their names. Here are my favorites: Spoon-Licker, Bowl-Licker, Skyr-Gobbler, Sausage-Swiper, Window-Peeper, and Door-Sniffer.

I'm Team Skyr-Gobbler 4-Eva. #SG4Me

In more threatening variations, the Yule Lads would kidnap bad children and take them back home for their mother to eat.

Stories of Grýla and the Yule Cat were actually so grisly, so frightening to Icelandic children, that supposedly "in 1746 the King of Iceland banned the telling of those tales". However, over the centuries the stories of the Grýla and the Yule Cat toned down enough that the ban was lifted and now Icelandic people can freely "enjoy" the legend. Furthermore, the idea of the Yule Cat now encourages people to give to the less fortunate during Christmas time.

And in 1932, Icelandic author, poet, and member of parliament, Jóhannes úr Kötlum, wrote this beloved poem about Jólakötturinn, then in 1987 Bjork sang it.

I'm seriously putting this on my "Christmas Work Day" playlist.

I'm thinking it might be time to introduce the legend of the Yule Cat to my nieces and nephews this year; around the time I mail them their custom "Auntie Lou Saved My Life" socks. What's cooler than saving their lives from a murderous, Christmas beast-cat?

Socks and underwear to all, and to all a good night!

Did you grow up with the Yule Cat? Grýla and the Yule Lads? If you know more, tell us more!

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