The legend of the Yule Cat; ‘tidings of great joy’

Published 11:09 am Wednesday, December 23, 2015

“He gave a wave of his strong tail,

He jumped and he clawed and he hissed.

Sometimes up in the valley,

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Sometimes down by the shore.” — from Yule Cat by Johannes ur Kotlum

American children fear that Santa Claus knows who has been naughty or nice and that they might get that lump of coal.  French children dread that Père Fouettard (Father Whipper) who travels with St. Nicolas will bring his switches on Dec. 6.  However, the Icelandic children dread the Yule Cat who prowls on Christmas Eve, peeping in windows, checking to see if each child has on something new for Christmas. 

If not, “From them he took in one fell swoop,

Their whole Yule dinner,

Always eating it himself

If he possibly could.”

Parents worked hard, long hours to be sure that their youngsters proudly wear their new socks and shoes or new aprons or more.

“For all who got something new to wear,

Stayed out of that pussy-cat’s grasp,

He then gave an awful hiss,

But went on his way.”

The legend of Yule Cat is centuries old.  It is believed that the tale was told to keep farm workers at their tasks of working with the sheep, harvesting the wool and making it ready for clothing.

Yule Cat belongs to Gryla, a giant lady-troll with hooves for feet and 13 tails.  She is in a perpetual bad mood due to her insatiable hunger for bad children whom she puts in her stew. 

Gryla’s 13 sons are each known for a particular mischievous habit. They visit Icelandic children each night on the 13 days leading up to Christmas.

Let’s meet the family. Sheep Cote Clog is a peg-legged sheep fancier. Gully Gawk hides out in ditches waiting to run into the cowshed and lick the foam off the milk in the milking buckets. If your pie pan is missing, you can bet Stubby has stolen it to eat the piecrust left behind. Spoon Licker loves licking and steals spoons while Pot Scraper makes off with the leftovers. Bowl Licker hides under your bed and waits for you to put down your bowl so he can lick it clean. Door Slammer is up all night banging doors. Skyr Gobbler eats all of the skyr, a type of yogurt, left in your house. Sausage Swiper makes off with all of the sausage. Window Peeper is watching you right now. Doorway Sniffer, using his incredibly large nose, sniffs through doors for your Christmas bread. Meat Hook uses his hook to make off with the meat. Candle Stealer follows the children around so he can steal their candles, leaving them in the dark.

Yule Cat leaves the people of Iceland with this thought.

“Now you might be thinking of helping

Where help is needed most.

Perhaps you’ll find some children

That have nothing at all.

Perhaps searching for those,

That live in a lightless world,

Will give you a happy day,

And a Merry, Merry Yule.”

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Please keep the following people in your thoughts and prayers:  Frances Anderson, Noreen Murray, Martha Whitehead, Dorothy Womack, Betty Jean Bolt and Gary Fiscus.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tiding of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:9-11 (KJV)

If you have any news, call Edwina Covington (434) 574-6576.

EDWINA COVINGTON is a retired teacher and columnist for Elam. Her email is