What could possibly make the Christmas season better in my opinion? Cats, of course! So cue the Yule Cat or Jólakötturinn, a giant cat from Nordic folklore that prowls the snowy countryside during yuletide and snatches up unsuspecting children who haven’t received new clothes that year!
This seemed like the perfect story to bring back one of my favorite Christmas story traditions: the doodle storytime video!
I tell (and illustrate) the basic story in the video, but in case you’re fascinated by tale and wanted to dig a little deeper, I thought I’d share some of the resources I found when researching it myself!
If you’re looking for an entertaining but well-researched backstory on the tale then check out the PBS series Monstrum which had an episode on the Yule Cat last year:
But if you’re looking for one of the only known written accounts of the Yule Cat (despite it being suggested that it’s an ancient tradition), you’ll have to look to the 19th century poet’s Jóhannes úr Kötlum tale titled “Jólakötturinn.”
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.
The translation doesn’t allow it to be very lyrical in English, but hopefully it still gets across the fun blend of holiday cheer and spooky warning! Because what’s Christmas without a little bit of scariness in these long cold nights?