While traditional Christmas folklore characters are typically friendly—just think of the many incarnations of St Nicolas—in Iceland there’s a character that sounds quite terrifying.
The Yule Cat (Jólakötturin) is a huge, vicious creature that lurks in the snowy countryside, waiting to devour people who have not received new clothes to wear for Christmas.
No one is certain where the scary cat idea came from, but the clothing tradition is well documented in Icelandic history. According to the National Museum of Iceland, in rural societies employers rewarded members of their household with new garments and new sheepskin shoes.
The rugged landscapes of Iceland have inspired many local folk tales.
These gifts, which were a prize for doing good work, encouraged everyone to work hard on the lead-up to Christmas, and to this day Icelanders still find it important to wear new clothes on Christmas Eve when the celebrations begin. “Devoured by the Christmas cat” is said about those who don’t do so, or don’t receive a new garment as a gift.
According to some tales, the Yule Cat only eats their food and presents, not the actual people. Either way, it sounds like a pretty mean creature.