Drat, the Yule Cat! or, A Frightening Festive Feline

Do you have a favourite black cat?

Mr Mistoffelees from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats maybe or Behemoth from The Master & Margarita – perhaps Pluto from The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe?

The Christmas or Yule Cat is a gigantic black cat that only appears at Christmas Eve when everybody is asleep and it isn’t anyone’s favourite cat, due to its homicidal nature.

Unless you’re a ailurophile with a death wish.

Its native home is Iceland, but there seems no reason why it might not spread its pawprint as far as the UK if it took a fancy to do this – and cats are notoriously easily distracted, so it could happen.

On that one night of the year Jólakötturinn walks around the houses, peering in through the windows with fiery green eyes. It is looking for people who have not been given clothes for Christmas. Ó nei!

Anybody falling short of this one unshakeable standard may be eaten by the Cat on Christmas Day.

If this does not sound like typical cat behaviour, the most likely explanation is that the cat is trollish in nature, or at least comes from a troll household.

This also explains why people are always giving each other socks for Christmas – just for safety!

The Cat is the familiar pet of Iceland’s ancient troll queen Grýla, who lives in a cave with her lazy husband and many troll sons in the Dimmuborgir lava fields, and they have been menacing the country since the Early Times.

The troll sons are known as the Yule Lads and today appear as Santa Claus type figures, leaving gifts for good behaviour and rotten potatoes for bad in the empty shoes which Icelandic children leave out on their windowsills on the 11th of December every year.

Dimmuborgir Lava Fields

In the past, they were markedly less human in appearance and roamed the towns and farms of the country stealing milk, slamming doors and hiding under beds… amongst other unsavoury activities.

Mother Grýla is an enthusiastic devourer of humans with a preferred diet of stew composed of naughty children. I suppose every neighbourhood has its problem family and in the Icelandic lava fields, this is definitely the one.

Makes your neighbours with their not sorting the recycling properly or ugly Christmas decorations look like pretty small beer in comparison, doesn’t it? Perspective is so important.

The Yule Cat doesn’t seem to care whether you are naughty or nice – he’s only concerned with whether you have new clothes.

The poet Jóhannes úr Kötlum has been responsible for popularising the legend of the bloodthirsty beast Jólakötturinn, with his 1932 poem The Christmas Cat being read in Icelandic homes as an alternative to ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.

The Cat is also featured in the Netflix film The Christmas Chronicles 2, and you can see it in the trailer here. Note that I do not recommend The Christmas Chronicles 2 for festive viewing as a full movie, because it doesn’t look very good.

An illuminated 16 foot tall effigy of the Cat, decorated with 6,500 LED lights, is on display in Lækjartorg in downtown Reykjavík for Christmas, where the townfolk sing carols to it as the lights are switched on.

They are wasting their time in song, really – they would be better off clothes shopping if they wish to elude the teeth, claws and dreaded weak “meaow”of the Yule Cat!

If you need to soothe your nerves now that a new anxiety has been unlocked for you, and you are huddled in your home listening for the pad, pad, pad of huge paws approaching, you can whip up a Black Cat cocktail to relax you.

Black Cat

1 shot cherry schnapps

1/2 shot vanilla creme de cacao

1/2 shot chocolate & charcoal simple syrup


Dark chocolate bitters

Making a simple syrup is just that – simple.

Boil a cup of water with a cup of sugar in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved, then stir in a tablespoon of cocoa powder and a tablespoon of activated charcoal into the mixture until fully blended. You can buy capsules of edible charcoal powder from any health food shop or via Amazon – some people swear by these as an antidote to gas and bloating, so they are very useful to have in the house. When you have boiled up your syrup, pour into a jar and cool it in the fridge overnight.

Combine the schnapps, creme de cacao and syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake, strain and pour. Top up with cola, and dot with bitters. You can make this a long or short drink according to taste.


The Yule Cat

You know the christmas cat
– that cat is very large
We dont know where he came from
nor where he has gone
He opened his eyes widely
glowing both of them
it was not for cowards
to look into them
His hair sharp as needles
his back was high and bulgy and claws on his hairy paw
were not a pretty sight
Therefore the women competed
to rock and sow and spin
and knitted colorful clothes
or one little sock
For the cat could not come
and get the little children
they had to get new clothes
from the grownups
When christmas eve was lighted
and the cat looked inside
the children stood straight and red-cheeked
with their presents
He waved his strong tail
he jumped, scratched and blew
and was either in the valley
or out on the headland
He walked about, hungry and mean
in hurtfully cold christmas snow
and kindled the hearts with fear
in every town
If outside one heard a weak “meaow”
then unluck was sure to happen
all knew he hunted men
and didnt want mice
He followed the poorer people
who didnt get any new clothing
near christmas – and tried and lived
in poorest conditions
From them he took at the same time
all their christmas food
and ate them also themselves
if he could
Therefore the women competed
to rock and sow and spin
and knitted colorful clothes
or one little sock Some had gotten an apron
and some had got a new shoe
or anything that was needful
but that was enough
For pussy should not eat no-one
who got some new piece of clothes
She hissed with her ugly voice
and ran away
If she still exists I dont know
but for nothing would be his trip
if everybody would get next christmas
some new rag
You may want to keep it in mind
to help if there is need
for somewhere there might be children
who get nothing at all
Mayhaps that looking for those who suffer
from lack of plentiful lights
will give you a happy season
and merry christmas.

: Jólakötturinn or The Christmas Cat by Jóhannes úr Kötlum (1899–1972)

Iceland’s favourite daughter Björk recorded a song version of the Jólakötturinn poem in 1987, which you can listen to here.

Beware of the Cat


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