The Wicked Feline Murder Floof, a Yule Cat Story | Monstrum


Christmas! That magical time of year – crackling log
fires, freshly fallen snow, twinkling lights, and murderous monster cats. Krampus isn’t the only Christmas monster. So is this! Well, a much larger version of this known
as the Yule Cat. But don’t be fooled…while it may be fluffy,
unlike this kitty, the Yule Cat is no cuddly creature. Called the Jólakötturinn
from the Icelandic world for jól +‎ köttur this creepy kitty
prowls the streets looking for its prey—anyone who has not received new clothes by Christmas. But Iceland has no wild large, predatory cat
species, so why does this creature take on a feline appearance? And why do these monstrous fashion critics
only attack people with old clothes? To find out we have to take a look at Icelandic
mythology, the importance of oral storytelling, and wool production. Also…murder floofs. With glowing eyes and sharp whiskers, the
Yule Cat towers over houses as it prowls the snowy streets hunting people rather than mice. The Yule Cat’s favorite prey is children. The giant feline lurks along snowy streets
and countrysides, checking in windows to see which children received new clothes for Christmas. If the Yule Cat spots anyone with frayed or
torn clothing, he eats them. Perhaps the most famous account of the Yule
Cat and the one most modern Icelanders are familiar with, comes from a poem. Björk even did a cover of it. From the book Christmas is Coming first published
in 1932, but translated to English for the first time in 2015, the author writes: “He opened his glaring eyes wide, The two
of them glowing bright. It took a really brave man To look straight into them./ His whiskers,
sharp as bristles, His back arched up high. And the claws of his hairy paws/Were a terrible
sight. He gave a wave of his strong tail, He jumped and he clawed and he hissed Sometimes
up in the valley Sometimes down by the shore. He roamed at large, hungry and evil/In the freezing,
Yule snow In every home, People shuddered at his name, If one heard a pitiful ‘meow’, Something
evil would happen soon. Everybody knew he hunted men, But didn’t care for mice.” Doesn’t that give you the warm fuzzies? Before we dive into the possible reasons why
this monster exists, we first must position him as part of a larger tradition. Where does this Yule Cat come from? Legend and literary history tell us that he
is actually the pet of a family of trolls, including the Yule Lads. Iceland does not actually have a Santa Claus. The Yule Lads, or Christmas Lads, serve as
the gift-givers children receive presents from every year. While the number of lads ranges from 9 to
22, the most common number is 13. Since around the 17th century, these trolls
came down from their mountain homes one by one over a period of 13 days before Christmas
to leave small presents—and cause a little mischief along the way. The brothers have very odd names like “Stubby”
Window-Peeper” and “Spoon-licker”. In the 20th century the Yule Lads adopted
red clothing and white beards, inspired by the Santa Claus from other cultures. But, these seemingly harmless trolls were
not always so friendly. Originally it was said that they came down from the mountains not to spread Christmas cheer, but to terrify children into obedience. They carried off the ones who misbehaved or cried too much. This was a successful enough deterrent that it actually caused a bit of panic. Enough so that in 1764 a regulation was issued from the government saying “The foolish custom, which has been practiced here and
there about the country, of scaring children with Yuletide Lads or ghosts, shall be abolished.” I should also mention that the Yule Lads have quite the famous mother— Grýla who has been around since at least the early 13th century. Early versions describe the troll with 300
heads, fifteen tails, goat horns, long ears, and a beard. Add in the Yule Cat and it’s just one big,
happy, wicked family. I had the privilege of speaking to the foremost authority in Iceland on Yule tradition, Árni Björnsson, who told me pinpointing the exact origin of the Yule Cat is a particularly slippery problem. According to him, scholars don’t know if
this creature was widely known in the country before the first edition of Iceland’s folktales were published in the 19th century. But, while the Yule Cat may have an indeterminate history, there are some compelling theories as to why the creature exists. I think part of the reason lies in the fact
that cats have always been more common than dogs in Iceland, both as pets and wild animals. Dogs were even banned from the country in 1924, and dog owners today must obtain a special permit to keep a canine companion. Cats also served an important function in
Icelandic mythology. The goddess of love and sorcery, Freya, traveled across the sky in a wagon pulled by two giant, flying cats. Specifically, cats resembling the Norwegian forest cat. I’m not much of a cat person, but even I
am smitten by these large, extra fluffy kitties. The Norwegian forest cat’s prevalence in
mythology (and as housepets) may account for the Yule Cat’s shaggy appearance. Dr. Björnsson, along with other scholars,
propose that the creation of the Yule Cat may also have been influenced by the Norwegian Yule Goat. Like the Yule Cat, this mythical creature
is also associated with a gift-giving entity, this time Saint Nicholas. Saint Nick was said to ride on a goat or parade a large one around a chain on while delivering presents to symbolize his power over the devil. Then there’s the possibility that another
Icelandic feline legend played a role—the waste-land cat or ghoul-cat. Larger and more ferocious than regular cats, these monsters bury themselves in the ground, preferably in a cemetery, at an early age. It can grow to the size of a large dog before springing from the ground to roam the rocky terrain attacking sheep, birds, and humans. As the story goes, the waste-land cat’s
powerful gaze can kill a human outright. Goats, St. Nick, a goddess, the devil, and
yet another cat with a taste for human flesh—that’s a lot to consider. But the Yule Cat’s connection to clothing
however, reveals an interesting social aspect to Icelandic culture. Most scholars, myself included, agree that the threat of the Yule Cat represents a rather practical problem—the need for warm clothes and a successful wool production. Iceland began exporting wool in the Middle Ages, and it became vital to the Icelandic economy and survival. During this time, wool related chores were
the responsibility of the entire household. After the food preparations for winter were completed in autumn, the largest tasks at hand were spinning and weaving. Casual workers and boarders in a homestead were often paid in wool. Icelandic sheep’s wool has two kinds of
hair: a coarse, more water-resistant top layer ] and the inner insulating layer. These would be separated by hand and used for different textiles. Men, women, and children would tease, card, spin, and knit the wool in order to produce yarn to sell. They would also knit garments for winter. In the past, Christmas gifts among most people were sparse and usually consisted of some small piece of clothing—but that was only
possible if everyone had participated in the annual production of wool and done their fair share of the work. Because the Yule Cat only attacks people who do not receive new clothes, this monster likely emerged as a response to the importance of wool production, scaring children (and even adults) into finishing their textile work
in time for Christmas and the coldest part of the year. The tradition of the Yule Cat promoted a strong work ethic and appropriate preparation for winter. But it also helped encourage familial and
social bonding. Gathering the household together around the fire on winter nights to work on wool production served an educational function. Iceland had almost total universal literacy
in the nineteenth century including in the lower classes even without a “significant”
educational infrastructure. Children learned to read and write while these chores took place. After children learned the alphabet, they
were instructed to read out loud to entertain the older participants and improve their own literacy. Frequently these stories included elves, trolls, and other supernatural beings. What was once a ferocious warning against laziness, is now just a quirky part of Iceland’s Yule traditions. In 2018 the City of Reykjavík installed a
five meter high, six meter long LED sculpture of the Yule Cat, it’s glowing red eyes serving as a playful reminder of the importance of hard work, and as a display of the power of storytelling. The great cost of the statue caused controversy, but nonetheless it continues to attract crowds. Every year around Christmas, Bjöork’s famous musical rendition of the 1932 Yule Cat poem can be heard on radio stations across Iceland. The famous feline inspires books, holiday greeting cards, and even chocolate. The Yule Cat legend shows us how Icelandic culture emphasized the importance of hard winter. It served as a warning to young children that being lazy would have serious consequences, not the least of which included being clawed and eaten alive by a massive cat. So may your days be merry and bright. And may all your Christmases be free of giant, flesh-eating murder floofs.

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