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In Iceland, the black Christmas cat Jólakötturinn eats bad children

Black cat with mouth open

The legend of Jólakötturinn the evil Christmas cat!

© Shutterstock

She is hunchbacked, huge, moth-eaten, her hair sticks like needles and she prefers to eat children. The Icelandic Christmas cat is feared by many children - and is very different from our Christ Child.

By Emilie Heyl

Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:24

Different countries, different customs. While we are waiting for Santa Claus to come in December, it is a completely different character on its way to Iceland. 

In Iceland, Christmas traditions are still preserved. Christmas starts four weeks before the 24th and ends thirteen days after on January 6. 

The Christmas cat Jolakötturinn

The evil Christmas cat Jólakötturinn belongs to a troll witch called Grýla . She threatens naughty children because she loves eating them. Grýla's sons are the Jólasveinar , the thirteen Icelandic Santa Clauses, dwarfs who originally didn't bring presents but would steal or joke around.

The statue of Jólakötturinn in the capital of Icelandic
© Shutterstock

Jólakötturinn isn’t your typical kitten! The cat is as tall as the tallest houses, prowls on Christmas night and looks through the window to see what presents the kids have received. If they have gotten new clothes, then the big cat moves along. But if the child didn’t receive new clothes and especially a new pair of socks, then Jólakötturinn, or Yule Cat will eat the child’s dinner before moving on to the main course: the child herself!

But why does the child have to receive a new pair of socks to avoid this awful condemnation?

The cat comes on Christmas Eve

The story of the Jólakötturinn cat dates back to the 19th century and was written to enforce good behaviour. According to the Icelandic tradition, when someone finishes their chores before Christmas, they would get new clothes as a reward. Therefore, new clothing was a sign that someone had not been lazy. Meanwhile, lazy children who didn’t get their work done would be punished and would have to face the monstrous Jólakötturinn cat.

The story of the Jólakötturinn should therefore be understood as an invitation to be hardworking and to prepare for the winter in good time.

Gleðileg jól! (It means Merry Christmas in Icelandic)