From Iceland — The Christmas Cat

The Christmas Cat

Published December 10, 2008

Grapevine reporter depicts the legend of the christmas cat

The Christmas Cat
Haukur S. Magnússon
Photo by
Hugleikur Dagsson

Grapevine reporter depicts the legend of the christmas cat

“We’ve got this database of monsters and creatures in our past. These stories are fascinating, it’s a shame that they’re not used more in modern culture,” remarked comic artist Hugleikur Dagsson in an interview this summer. The Grapevine promptly drafted Dagsson to illustrate a series of articles on these monsters of yore. For this ninth instalment in the series Dagsson depicts one of Iceland’s creepiest critters and the reason we sport cool new threads during the holidays; Jólakötturinn, the Christmas Cat.

Jólakötturinn is a lovable, wholly unholy beast, a sort of proto-fashion police whose impeccable sense of style, in your face attitude and lack of respect for human life terrified Icelanders into stylistic submission in ways that today’s anorexia-inducing Vogues and Cosmopolitans can only dream of. The ginormous cat’s sole purpose in life is to eat children (and adults, some say) that do not get a new piece of clothing before Christmas. Yes, it devours financially disadvantaged children.This is the kind of message Icelanders like to send out in their folklore: if you do not have the money or means of acquiring new items of clothing before the festival of lights, you will be eaten by a gigantic cat. This is one of the reasons that Icelanders clock in more hours of overtime at their jobs than most European nations: to avoid the cat, we stayed up sewing or knitting in the olden days, and we stayed up graphic designing or stock-brokering in early 2008.

Some versions of the Jólakötturinn story actually claim he did no such thing as eat kids, opting rather to steal all their food and holiday treats instead. While its a far cry better than chewing them to a bloody pulp and devouring their tasty flesh, its still real mean of him. Not much is known about Jólakötturinn’s origins, in fact a famous poem about him ny Iceland’s beloved bard Jóhannes úr Kötlum accurately proclaimed that “no one knows where he’s from or where he goes”.

Although he is believed to have terrified Icelanders since the dark ages, written records detailing the murderous feline and its children-eating ways only go back to the nineteenth century. He is thought to be the house-cat of the evil troll Grýla (she also liked the taste of children – more on her in next issue), her troll husband Leppalúði and the non-trollish thirteen mischief-making Yule-lads in a cave somewhere up in the mountains. As far as we know, Jólakötturinn and his evil, biting teeth are still at large. Merry Christmas, everybody!

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