Look out for the Christmas Cat
Yeah, it sounds all cutesy, but don’t be fooled. The Christmas Cat is the stuff of nightmares. If you’re a kid growing up in Iceland, it is. Instead of dreams of sugar plums dancing in your head on Christmas Eve, you might be having nightmare visions of your being eviscerated by the fearsome, fanged feline! You could say the Christmas Cat is a metaphor for frigid winter weather, an admonition, like the classic Boogeyman being used to frighten kids into behaving—“You’d better be good or the Boogeyman will get you!—in this case meant to instill in children the necessity to bundle up and not spend too much time outdoors. (The place IS called ICE-land, after all.)
Also known as the Yule Cat (and doubtless the figure is a holdout from the pre-Christian past, a pagan effigy incorporated, like the German Krampus, indeed even like Santa Claus himself, into modern Christianized folklore), the beast punishes kids who don’t wear warm clothes, don’t leave it an offering of mittens or a scarf or some similar article of clothing—Why would the Cat need such items? Does it simply want to deprive children of having them, to leave the little tykes at the mercy of the brutal winter wind?—and who don’t work hard. (If I’d grown up in Iceland, the Cat would for sure have gotten me.) There’s a famous poem, written by Johannes ur Kotlum (catchoo!) about the Christmas Cat. Here’s a couple’a three quatrains: “His whiskers, sharp as bristles, His back arched up high. And the claws of his hairy paws Were a terrible sight…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.” I’m sure it rhymes in Icelandic.