Without wanting to offend the Yule Lads (the 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses) I have to say that the Yule Cat, or Jólakötturinn, is my favorite Yuletide creature. How can you not love a huge evil cat with teeth so sharp and paws so strong that it can capture and eat poor little children with ease? I mean, what’s more jóló than that?
The Yule cat wanders around Iceland on Christmas eve looking for children in particular, although I don’t think anyone is safe, that have not got something new to wear for Christmas. This is the one instance where it is better to be a mouse than man because the Yule Cat only hunts the latter.
In the old days the Yule Cat was used to make sure people finished their chores before Christmas and apparently those who did got something new to wear for Christmas and those who didn’t were in jeopardy of facing the Yule cat. The cat would peer through the windows and if it saw children holding a parcel that looked like it contained clothing it would hiss and move on. To add insult to injury, the cat would eat all your food before it ate you (so it wasn’t that hungry anymore, it was just being plain old mean).
In recent years people have decided that the Yule cat is part of the Yule family which make sense because everyone in that family has eaten children at some point. If anyone would have a cat like that it probably would be Grýla.
As crazy as all of this sound, people in Iceland are still worried about the Yule cat (OK, worried is maybe not the right word here) and make sure their loved ones get something new to wear for Christmas. When I was a kid we would always get new pajamas, underwear or even new fancy shoes and often we got it on the morning of Christmas eve. It’s also very common that people buy a whole new outfit for Christmas that you premier at Christmas eve and then you wear it to the Christmas parties that follow in the next couple of days.
So if you plan on spending Christmas in Iceland, make sure that everyone in your party gets something new for Christmas. You don’t want them to go to the Yule cat (Fara í jólaköttinn).