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The Yule Cat meets the kreppa

So I’ve blogged about yule cat insurance before.

If you’ve just joined us, the Yule Cat [jólakötturinn] is a pretty formidable creature out of Icelandic mythology that eats people who have not received anything new for Christmas. That’s right: EATS those poor little innocents who are forced to go without.

In other words, the Yule Cat is not some furry little kitty-cat you can cuddle with on the sofa. It’s a ravenous, hungry beast that will swallow you whole – UNLESS you get something new to wear at Christmas. And we’re not talking under the tree. That doesn’t count. It has to be before.

jólakötturinn, yule cat

The dreaded Yule Cat, artists’ rendition

It’s pretty amazing just how ingrained this tradition is into Icelandic society. In the past presumably it was used as an incentive for people to work hard to make new clothing before Christmas; today, however, it mostly benefits clothing merchants who are already making a killing, pardon the pun. I don’t believe anyone in the YT household has ever farið í jólaköttinn – a phrase that literally means “gone into the Yule Cat” and figuratively means “been eaten by the beast.”

This year, however, because of the kreppa and everything, both AAH and I decided to tone down our Yule Cat insurance requirements. I, for instance, dug out a perfectly good dress that’s still classic, performed a small alteration, added a new accessory, and VOILA! my new Christmas dress. No need to invest in something new. Same with AAH, who actually broached the subject all on her own a few days ago – a marked departure from the rather stringent demands of the 2007-era.

If the truth be told, I had pretty much settled on being eaten by the Cat this year. Thought it might be kind of interesting, first time and everything. Make do with what I have, and all that. Check out the Belly, have a look around.

BUT – at some subconscious level I felt decidedly uncomfortable with it. And it was at that point that I realized just to what extent I am influenced by the traditions that have been so ingrained in this culture for centuries. When I was small, great care was taken that I didn’t end in the belly of the Yule Cat, and now all these years later I simply cannot NOT buy myself something new for Christmas.

And so, this year, as Yule Cat insurance, I have settled on a rather modest item: a sassy new red lipstick. I figure that will work. I mean – it’s new, and I intend to wear in on Christmas Eve. Granted, it’s not a piece of clothing, but it IS from MAC and it’s not tested on animals, so surely that holds some cred. Right?

Meanwhile, I leave you with old Björk Guðmundsdóttir singing the song about the Yule Cat. Some of the comments accompanying this video on YouTube go on about what a pretty little song it is, but make no mistake, those lyrics are fierce. Jólakötturinn, ladies and gents:

OK, here’s the deal. It was cold this morning. Cold and icy. So cold and icy that there was a terrible, horrible car accident on the road between Hafnarfjörður and Reykjavík in which two people were killed. EPI and I had a romantic getaway planned to Hótel Rangá this evening, to enjoy a Christmas buffet and spend the night. And you know what? We cancelled. Because of the icy roads. I have a bit of a car phobia as it is [several car accidents, two cases of whiplash] and there was no way I was going to undertake two hours of driving in those conditions, each way. Especially after that accident. Right now 2°C [36F] and the wind is picking up. Sunrise at 11.19, sunset at 3.28 pm.

[photo credit]



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • sigga December 18, 2009, 11:48 pm

    That is so true Alda, I too have been wondering what to do about the jóla kata dæmi… My sister saved the day and sent me pj’s from Aus – which I have now washed and will be able to wear to bed on Christmas Eve. As for what I will be wearing during the church and dinner section of the evening – I think I will be panic shopping in the only shop in town – at the last minute… but it is so ingrained… all good intentions get swept out the window just before the shops close. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and thanks for all the posts during the last year – much appreciated.. have been able to direct people to you when they want an insight into what is happening on this rock that we call home.

  • Cassie December 19, 2009, 12:40 am

    You know, I have that song on my iPod (thanks to you). I think the lipstick should be enough, really. Hopefully.

  • Bjarni December 19, 2009, 3:33 am

    my 84 year old mother has a little different view, you were subject to the ,cat, only if you did not receive a Christmas gift.AMMA made almost all of their clothes(a necessity,not subject to the ,cat,) however if after church,supper,and gift exchange on Christmas Eve,and you did not receive a gift(book,candle,etc.) you were subject to the ,cat,.
    Christmas Day was a time of family gathering , and if they were real lucky,AFI would be back from fishing,and would bring oranges and apples from England.
    Wishing You and Yours the very best into the new year

  • James December 19, 2009, 8:40 am

    Ignore the Yule Cat and Yule Be Sorry…

  • BRADSTREET December 19, 2009, 9:41 am

    Given that other Winter celebrations in Britain (Bonfire Night-Terrorist threat averted; Halloween-Ghosts on the loose) have a little bit of grit in them, I’ve been a little disappointed by the insipid nature of Xmas for some time now. Santa, Frosty the Snowman. Robin Redbreast, Rudolf the red nosed reindeer…how blah can you get? It would be great to introduce something like the Yule Cat to UK/US seasonal folklore. BloodFang-The Xmas Werewolf! He prowls the streets looking for carol singers to eviscerate. Be sure to go to bed early on Xmas Eve, kids, ’cause if you don’t he’ll chomp you up. I can already see the merchandising opportunities…

    Thanks for that Bjork song. Never heard it before now, but it’s splendid. The music feels a little like the opening titles of a late 70s childrens TV serial about the supernatural called THE MOON STALLION (also on YOUTUBE). It was composed by Howard Blake (who composed THE SNOWMAN).

    In Britland we’re all supposed to be under a blanket of snow this weekend, according to the weathermen, but it is icily cold rather than snowy. Alda, you’re quite right to be careful. We want to be reading your posts after the holidays, so take care!

  • kevin o'connor waterford Ireland December 19, 2009, 10:57 am

    How creepy poor kids get eaten watched by their sobbing poverty stricken parents, whilst rich kids perhaps of the Icelandic Power and money elites get to have a nice gooey christmas, offends my marxist sensibilities comrades, however is very Icelandic at the moment as in Yule Cat=Icesave eating the populace so perhaps there is something to those sagas/legends you have up there.My mum has a black cat but it sure doesn’t look like that critter up there.However I could use it down here to devour my sisters,nieces parents etc so I dont have to buy them presents ha ha !!! What a Scrooge however please accept miserable donation of €5 to your blog as I have been so fleeced you might as well join in Alda. And Merry Christmas comrade citizens !! will donate again in one year bah humbug

  • Paul H December 20, 2009, 12:09 am

    You have a Fierce Fashion Feline?
    I hope being an útlendingur leaves me safely outside its jurisdiction.
    I may get new clothing for Christmas, but certainly not before.

  • Paul H December 23, 2009, 3:03 pm

    The missus ‘saved my bacon’ by buying me some new socks.
    Phew, that was close!
    [wipes sweat from brow]