Jólakötturinn, the terrifying man-eating Christmas cat of Iceland


There is a charming old bit of folklore from Iceland about a giant Christmas cat that will eat anyone who doesn’t get new clothes for Christmas.

The lesson? Work hard and you will be able to have something new. And not get eaten.

Many folk historians believe is may go back to the dark ages. They do know that he was used as a threat by farmers to scare workers into finishing up the processing of wool from the fall season before Christmas.

In the old days, the Christmas cat would peer through the windows and if it saw children holding a parcel that looked like it contained clothing it would hiss and move on. To add insult to injury, the cat would eat all your food before it ate you.

In recent years people have decided that the Christmas cat is part of the Yule family.   The Yuletide-lads or trolls “come to town” during the last 13 nights before Christmas.  They play tricks and make mischief, from harassing sheep to stealing children’s candles.

Santa, just one pair of socks, please.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the Yuletide lads:


Icelandic Name English translation Description Arrival Departure
Stekkjarstaur Sheep-Cote Clod Harasses sheep, but is impaired by his stiff peg-legs. 12 December 25 December
Giljagaur Gully Gawk Hides in gullies, waiting for an opportunity to sneak into the cowshed and steal milk. 13 December 26 December
Stúfur Stubby Abnormally short. Steals pans to eat the crust left on them. 14 December 27 December
Þvörusleikir Spoon-Licker Steals Þvörur (a type of a wooden spoon with a long handle – I. þvara) to lick. Is extremely thin due to malnutrition. 15 December 28 December
Pottaskefill Pot-Scraper Steals leftovers from pots. 16 December 29 December
Askasleikir Bowl-Licker Hides under beds waiting for someone to put down their “askur” (a type of bowl with a lid used instead of dishes), which he then steals. 17 December 30 December
Hurðaskellir Door-Slammer Likes to slam doors, especially during the night. 18 December 31 December
Skyrgámur Skyr-Gobbler A Yule Lad with an affinity for skyr. 19 December 1 January
Bjúgnakrækir Sausage-Swiper Would hide in the rafters and snatch sausages that were being smoked. 20 December 2 January
Gluggagægir Window-Peeper A snoop who would look through windows in search of things to steal. 21 December 3 January
Gáttaþefur Doorway-Sniffer Has an abnormally large nose and an acute sense of smell which he uses to locate laufabrauð. 22 December 4 January
Ketkrókur Meat-Hook Uses a hook to steal meat. 23 December 5 January
Kertasníkir Candle-Stealer Follows children in order to steal their candles (which in those days were made of tallow and thus edible). 24 December 6 January

H/T : Wikipedia

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