Culture Myths & Legends

How The Story Of The Christmas Cat Spread Around The World

christmas cat

What Is Christmas Cat?

There is a wide range of Christmas beliefs in a wide range of countries, which include some that have taken inspiration from pre-Christian sources. For instance, interested individuals might have heard of Iceland’s Christmas Cat, though the name is more often translated as Yule Cat.

The Yule Cat is one of a number of Icelandic Christmas beliefs that are connected with one another. The whole set started out with a giantess named Gryla in the 13th century Prose Edda, which is one of our most important sources for Norse mythology. In those days, she didn’t have any connections with Christmas. However, she was depicted as someone who would go around asking parents for their disobedient children. Something that explains much about Gryla’s modern depiction as someone who goes around searching for disobedient children at Christmas time so that she can eat them.

christmas catFigure of Grýla (mother of Christmas cat) on the main street of Akureyri, Iceland (Image Source)

In any case, the modern Gryla has managed to pick up an entire family. There is her husband Leppaludi who stays at home most of the time because of his laziness. Furthermore, there are their thirteen children called the Yule Lads, pranksters who leave small gifts for children who are well-behaved and potatoes for children who are not. Finally, there is the family pet – the huge and vicious creature called the Yule Cat who eats people who haven’t received new clothes before Christmas Eve.

As for why the Yule Cat behaves like the Yule Cat, well, the whole thing seems to have originated as a way for farmers to encourage their farm workers to get their chores done before Christmas Eve. Those who did so would receive new clothes, whereas those who did not would be threatened with the Yule Cat. It is worth mentioning that there are different stories about the creature, with an excellent example being how some versions claim that it will settle for eating people’s food rather than the people themselves. However, the Yule Cat is like the other aforementioned figures in that the best-known version has been cemented by the Icelandic poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum, whose 1932 book of poems on the matter has inspired generation after generation of Icelanders.

How Has the Christmas Cat Story Spread So Far So Fast?

Said poet was active throughout much of the 20th century. However, his impact has been felt far beyond his homeland. It is unclear how Yule Cat has spread so far, but it isn’t too hard to come up with some guesses. For instance, there are a lot of people who feel fed up with the modern presentation of Christmas. They don’t necessarily have anything against the holiday itself, but they do long for a sense of authenticity. As a result, it is possible that learning more about these less well-known Christmas beliefs is a way for them to satisfy that longing on their part. Of course, there is an easier potential explanation, which is that many of these less well-known Christmas beliefs can be quite entertaining.

Regardless, those who enjoy the story of the Yule Cat should check out the Christmas Cat-inspired products in our shop, which are also great for just cat lovers in general.

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