December 19, 2019

Interview with Iceland’s Christmas Cat

by Águsta Björg Þorsteinsdóttir
Interview with Iceland’s Christmas Cat

When most people think of Christmas cats, they usually think of cuddly kittens playing under the Christmas tree in the living room. The Icelandic version of the Christmas cat is the opposite of cute and snuggly. Known as Jólaköttur, this enormous and terrifying feline is part of a Yuletide folkore that includes a fierce ogress, mysterious elves and prankster Yule Lads. One of our braver staff members (who also happens to be a cat whisperer) was able to approach and interview the cat. The pair of freshly-knitted gloves helped ensure the clothing oriented Christmas Cat’s cooperation, and we are happy to say no humans were harmed in the interview. Read on and learn about the Christmas Cat!

The Christmas Cat. Black dot represents average height of an Icelandic child. Be very afraid.
(Image: Anna María Geirsdóttir)
Not the Christmas Cat but an inferior copycat.

Translated from the mysterious Feline language.

Iceland Travel (IT): Thank you so much for meeting with us, Jólaköttur.

Jólakötturinn (JK): The pleasure is all yours, I am sure.

IT: There are so many legends about your scariness, about how you are so huge and terrifying and ugly that you strike fear into the hearts of children everywhere.

JK: Why, thank you. I try my best.

IT: You have the terrifying reputation of eating all children who have not received a new item of new clothing for Christmas. It would be great to hear your point of view on this.

JK: Oh, the negative publicity from the paparazzi these days! I am a noble and selfless creature. I perform a valuable and unappreciated service for the Icelandic fashion industry by making sure everyone in Iceland has something snazzy to wear every year. Where would all the shopping malls and clothing stores be without little old moi? Plus, by eating children who don’t have new clothing; I am maintaining population control. I am a very sustainable and eco-friendly monster when you look at it that way.

IT: That is so cruel!

JK: I know, eh? Thanks to me, I make kids suffer by having to get some item of clothing for Christmas when they’d rather get candy or computer games. Actually, some legends about me in the olden days stated I did not eat children. I just ate their food instead. It was later on that I finally received recognition as the gorgeous man-eating monster I am. I have Jóhannes úr Kötlum to thank for that. He wrote that amazing song in praise of my terrifying personality in 1932. It was part of his children’s book of Christmas poems based on Icelandic folklore, Jólin koma.

IT: Oh, right. That is a great poem, and it was made into a spooky song by Ingibjörg Þórbergs. Björk did a wonderful cover of it in 1987. And so did the jazz singer Ragnheiður Gröndal in 2004.

Christmas Cat repellent

JK: Indeed. Those ladies truly understand me and my importance to this world.

IT: So, how long have you been, uh, practicing sustainable fashion-oriented population control?

JK: Not long enough- oops, sorry, I meant to say I’ve been doing this for centuries. Though to be honest, the oldest written records about me go back only to the 1800s. That‘s when I became really famous. In the olden days Icelanders made all their own clothing from wool. Children were a big part of this. The sheep were shorn in September at the annual sheep roundups. All the wool had to be processed during the fall and completed before Christmas Eve. I was a great motivational tool for the head farmer to ensure the workers finished on time. They would tell their child workers that I would eat the children (yummy!) who did not complete the work in time. The workers who did finish their job on time would get a new item of clothing. Somehow the arrangement changed over time so that anyone who did not get a new item of clothing for Christmas would become part of my Christmas dinner. And that’s how things are today, although nowadays I enjoy my Christmas dinner with Sriacha sauce or Bernaise-catnip sauce.

IT: Yes, life was incredibly hard for Icelanders in this time, and it’s important to be grateful for what we have today. Iceland now has one of the world’s highest standards of living.

Turf house at Reykjavik’s Árbær Museum. Rural Icelanders lived in turf homes through the beginning of the 20th-century.

JK: Yes. I hate to say this- it’s going to make me look like a wimpy pussycat – but scary monsters can also have a good purpose. I wound up encouraging children to appreciate what they have and to care for others who have nothing. People in the olden days would make extra clothing items that could be donated to poor children to make sure they got new clothes for Christmas. And today an important part of Christmas is to help others in need have a good Christmas. Jóhannes úr Kötlum mentioned that at the end of his Jólakötturinn poem:

Perhaps you will remember
To help with gifts yourself ;
Perhaps there still are children
Who would get nothing else.

Maybe if you can help those
Who need a little cheer,
It will bring you a Good Yule
And a Happy New Year!

IT: And it’s important for children to realize that they should always be thankful for gifts, no matter how humble the gift. A practical, useful item of clothing is a great gift.

JK: Especially if it is stylish and accessorizes well. Purr.

Living history reenactment of Christmas on a farm in the early 20th-century
(Image: The Wilderness Center, East Iceland)

IT: It’s a good thing most Icelandic kids do get clothing as part of their Christmas gifts these days.

JK: I know, but that’s a bad thing for me and for my owner Grýla. She eats naughty children at Christmas. Nowadays, so many kids get a clothing item and are super well-behaved at Christmas that Grýla and I have to order pizza to get something to eat for Christmas.

IT: Ah, right: Grýla the ogress and mother of the Yule Lads! It is interesting how the Yule Lads have changed over time. They started out as frightening creatures but are now pranksters who leave presents for children during Advent. However, you and Grýla have still hung onto your cruel and scary image. Grýla is really terrifying!

Grýla the Ogress

JK: Heh. You try being the only woman or a cat sharing a cave with a bunch of annoying grown up sons who can’t cook or clean after themselves. You’d be angry all the time, too. Me, I spend as little time there as possible.

IT: Actually, what do you do the rest of the year outside of Christmas?

JK: I’m a fashionista, baby! Since I am obsessed with new clothes, I need to keep up on all the latest styles. I attend all the fashion weeks: London, Berlin, New York, Madrid, Tokyo. Plus, Design March in Reykjavík is a lot of fun and the Icelandic fashion industry is so innovative. I also design clothes, too.

IT: I know. You make our uniforms for Iceland Travel.

JK: Right! Now that Iceland Travel has a new logo and brand and colors it is going to be so fun making a new outfit for all of you that evokes “Proud Local Host.” I thought maybe to draw inspiration for cat fashion and have all of you wear cute collars with bells and your ID Cards.

IT: Maybe without the bells? Just a suggestion since most of our employees don’t hunt songbirds. One last question: what do you think about the new Jólakötturinn Christmas decoration in downtown Reykjavík?

JK: Anything that revolves around adoration of me is always a great idea. My only complaint is they never asked me about posing for the sculpture. I really wanted to pose for the sculpture since I AM the Christmas cat. The cat model they used just is so not me. He’s way too cute and cuddly. I mean who styles his fur, anyway? The north wind?

The (in our opinion) very cool Reykjavik Christmas Cat light sculpture. (Image: Shutterstock)

IT: We can’t all be as horribly beautiful as you.

JK: And thank goodness for that.

IT: Well, thank you for your time, Jólaköttur. I hope you have a wonderful time designing our uniforms and that your Christmas pizza tastes good.

JK: Well, that all depends on if kids get new clothes or not. And you are welcome. Make sure you get new clothes for Christmas. I’d suggest sticking to the 2019-2020 color palette with Frost Gray and Galaxy Blue. Avoid Merlot and Bluestone shades. Those are SO 2018.

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