Type: UP (Unholy Pet).
Period/location of origin: Unknown, Iceland. Although many reports state that subject, known as the jólakötturinn or Yule Cat, originated during the medieval era or Dark Ages, written record of subject dates back only as far as the 19th century. Given that record of subject’s owners (see also: Gryla and family) dates back to the 13th century, this is somewhat odd. However, it is always possible that subject’s owners only recently decided to adopt a family pet.
Appearance: Subject appears to be an enormous cat with glowing eyes and needle-sharp claws. “Enormous” does not refer to, say, the size of a lion, tiger, or other big cat compared to that of a typical domesticated house cat; rather, “enormous” in this case means “larger than a detached, single-family dwelling of considerable size.” Subject is sometimes described as having black fur, although this detail may or may not be present depending on the source.
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Modus operandi: Subject lies in wait much of the year, enjoying life at home with its family, as many house pets do. However, subject begins to stir as Dec. 25 approaches. On Dec. 24, subject goes on the prowl, examining each and every home in order to ensure that its inhabitants have recently received new clothing.
If they have, subject allows them to go free, continuing their holiday celebrations, if any are being held.
If they have not, however, subject will consume them alive.
This, however, assumes that subject’s owners have not already visited, abducted, and consumed these targets themselves.
Jól (see: Additional notes) is a treacherous time of year, indeed.
Containment: Subject may be held at bay by targets either acquiring new clothing for themselves before Dec. 24 (see: Additional notes), or by gifting someone less economically privileged with clothing before that same date. For an extra level of protection, targets should plan on wearing their new clothes on Dec. 24 and/or Dec. 25.
Additional notes: As detailed elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia, subject belongs to the family of the ogre/troll/witch/giantess Gryla. Gryla, her spouse Leppalúðim, and their children, the 13 jólasveinar/Yule Lads live together in a cave for the majority of the year; however, during the month of December — specifically during the parts of December that encapsulate the Icelandic winter holiday season, jól — they become active in society. (Jól is roughly analogous to the modern-day Christmas season) Gryla hunts misbehaving children, children who have eaten meat during Lent, or children who are caught outside of their homes at night, abducts those she finds who fit these criteria, brings them to the family cave, and then consumes them, either raw or cooked. The Yule Lads, meanwhile, visit the homes of those who celebrate jól between Dec. 12 and Dec. 24 — one per day — and stay for 13 days apiece, wreaking as much havoc within the homes as possible before they depart. Leppalúðim does not seem to do much of anything; his laziness is his defining characteristic.
While written record of Gryla begins in the 13th century work Prose Edda, stories about her are believed to have circulated for some time beforehand. Gryla and her family apparently waited some time to adopt their household cat, as written record of subject does not appear until five centuries later. It has been suggested that stories about subject may have circulated as oral tradition prior to this time, but it is not possible to determine whether this is actually the case.
Interestingly, Gryla’s specific association with jól did not arise until the 19th century — that is, the same time that subject entered the written record.
Subject received widespread attention in 1932, thanks to the publication of Icelandic author and poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s book Jólin koma. This volume included a poem written about and titled after subject which remains popular in Iceland today. The poem may be found here. Icelandic musician Björk later wrote and recorded a song about subject, as well, using Kötlum’s poem as inspiration. The song may be heard here.
Subject’s preoccupation with new clothing is somewhat more understandable within the context of what the clothing represents. The understanding is that one may only acquire new clothing if one maintains a good work ethic — that is, either the clothing is paid for with money earned from working hard, or the clothing is itself payment for working hard. Should a target not have acquired new clothing by the appointed time of year, subject infers that this target is lazy and therefore deserves to be punished. In this sense, subject functions as the bogeyman figure of a cautionary tale told to young children — the kind that usually goes, “Work hard, or the Yule Cat will eat you.” Failing to gift clothing to someone else in addition to not acquiring new clothing for target’s own self also positions subject as the bogeyman figure of a cautionary tale: “Be kind and generous to those less fortunate than yourself, or the Yule Cat will eat you.”
There are numerous issues with subject’s logic, particularly as it pertains to acquiring new clothing for one’s own self. For one thing, laziness is far from the only reason one may not have the funds available to purchase new clothing at the end of the year; indeed, many of these alternate reasons may not be the fault of the target at all — for instance, job loss due to layoffs and budget-cutting; a job marketed glutted with applicants; a failing national or global economy resulting in low and/or stagnant wages, etc. Additionally, subject does not seem to hold its own family — namely Leppalúðim — to the same standard as it does everyone else, which is more than a little bit hypocritical.
It is not recommended that one point out subject’s hypocrisy to it. It is likely that subject will respond by eating anyone who dares do so.
Recommendation: Work hard.
Or subject will eat you.
[Photo via AlexVov/Pixabay]