In Iceland Christmas Cat eats children who do not get new clothing by Christmas Eve
There’s something that roams through the towns of Iceland in winter that some believe is more fearsome than the werewolf – it’s vicious, has fangs, is covered in fur, and only comes out at Christmas! It’s called the Jólakötturinn or Jólaköttur. If you’re not from Iceland and find that word hard to pronounce, you can refer to the creature simply as the “Yule Cat“. Don’t be fooled though, this is not the type of cat that cuddles with you at night – this is the feline that nightmares are made of!
Jólakötturinn (aka the Yule Cat or Christmas Cat) is named after Christmas due to the fact that this is the time when he comes out. It is rumored that he only eats once a year, and when he does, his goal is simple: he prowls around looking for people to eat. His main target: anyone that does not have new clothing before Christmas Eve. It goes without saying that most locals make it a point to do some shopping for themselves and their loved ones – at a minimum they buy new socks or underwear by Christmas! Before you put the Yule Cat on the list of most vicious pets of all time, it should be noted that there are variations of the legend that say that Jólakötturinn does not actually eat the people that don’t have new clothes, but rather eats their food.
Interestingly, the Yule Cat is indeed a pet. He is said to live in the household of the ogre/troll Grýla and her 13 “Yuletide Lads”. The Yule Lads are mischievous trolls who wreak havoc throughout towns on the 13 nights before Christmas. The original legends said the Yulemen would steal children to boil in a stew.
It is said that the legends inflicted so much fear into the hearts of townspeople that the tales gradually changed to depict the Yule Lads as simply mischievous creatures, not man-eaters. It was said that they would simply do annoying, relatively harmless things (like steal cow’s milk, swipe sausages, and peep through windows).
As time has gone on, the legend of the Yuletide Lads has become even gentler still. More modern day legends depict the Yulemen as being more like Santa Clause in that they judge if children have been naughty or nice. Depending on their decision, like Santa, if the children have been nice, they leave gifts. If the children have been naughty however, they leave a rotten potato in the shoes the children have left on their windowsills.