Every country has its own Christmas traditions – and every family within each country may have their own as well. In Iceland, there’s the tradition of giving at least one piece of clothing as a gift. Not a bad tradition, right? The tradition, however, stems from the legend of the Jólakötturinn, or Yule Cat. The idea of a Christmas cat sounds cute and sweet; who wouldn’t want a cat at Christmastime?
Anyone who doesn’t get clothes for Christmas; that’s who. The Yule Cat really hates it when you don’t get clothes for Christmas… I mean, no new clothes means the Yule Cat will eat you. Really. He’ll gobble you up for Christmas dinner.
Even though the origins of the Yule Cat are unknown, the Natural Museum of Iceland states that the “Yule Cat will eat those who do not receive any new clothing for Christmas… Even to this day, many people consider receiving new clothing for Christmas to be of extreme importance. It is common for people to dress in new clothing from head to toe on Christmas Eve. Some sources suggest that female farm workers in the old days worked extremely hard to produce one item of clothing after another during Advent, all in an effort to save the farm folk from the claws of the Yule Cat. It is likely that the Yule Cat myth was originally designed to urge farm workers to perform well prior to Christmas and to finish their tasks. As a reward they would receive a new item of clothing from their masters. Those who did not complete their tasks, however, received no gift from their master, thus ‘ending up in the Yule Cat.’ In other words, the Yule Cat helped combat laziness and inertia.” For those who couldn’t afford new clothes, the legend of the Yule Cat also promoted generosity, inspiring those with the means to do so to give new clothes to those less fortunate.
Don’t believe me? There’s a song about him:
Hmm, I wonder how many parents use this story to get kids to do their chores in the weeks leading up to Christmas? Or perhaps it’s a story to tell to those who complain about getting new clothes instead of a cool new toy. Thankfully clothes are on my wish list this year.