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The dark side of Christmas: Beware the Yule cat and Yule lads!

Ah, Christmas. When visions of sugar plums dance in our heads, and it’s all about peace on earth and goodwill.

Or is it?

Thanks to a rash of recent horror movies and books, you’ve no doubt heard of Krampus, Santa’s horned cohort who punishes the bad kids. But have you heard of the Yule Lads and the dreaded Yule Cat?

The thirteen Yule Lads (of course there are thirteen of the little bastards) appear in our midst during the last thirteen days before Christmas (there’s that number again). Some are mischievous and some are a huge pain in the keister.

How do you know you’ve been targeted by a Yule Lad? Here are some signs you may have an infestation.

  • Have your leftovers mysteriously gone missing? Blame Pottaskefill, who steals them.
  • Have your spoons been licked? That’s the fault of Þvörusleikir, who takes care of all those cookie batter-caked utensils.
  • Have your sausages been swiped? That’s a true sign of a Yule Lad in action. Bjúgnakrækir hides in the rafters and steals sausages that have been smoked.
  • Feel like you’re being watched? It’s Gluggagægir, the window peeper, who looks into your home in search of things to steal.
  • And finally, beware of Ketkrókurwho will wander your home with a meat hook to steal your Christmas turkey or ham.

These things may seem fairly innocent (or the work of children and pets), but a guy peeking through my windows with a huge meat hook would freak me out a bit–just sayin’.

As bad as these little trolls are, they’re nothing compared to the Yule Cat, a gigantic kitty that lurks outside during the Christmas season and eats people who haven’t received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve. Ouch! Perhaps there’s a practical use for that ugly Christmas sweater. Or, may I suggest a Christmas suit?

Christmas suit

Just to be on the safe side, stay in on the night of the 24th.

As you may have guessed from some of the names, these are all Icelandic legends, so you may think you’ll be fine if you’re not Icelandic.

But then again, why take chances?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best of the holidays to you, no matter what you celebrate! Do you have any fun (or creepy) holiday legends or traditions to share? I’d love to hear them. And if you’re Icelandic, I wish you the best of luck!

Photo credit for this awesome Yule Cat photo goes to Diademgrove.

If you’d like to read a fun horror novella featuring the Yule Lads and Yule Cat, J.G. Faherty’s Winterwood is excellent. I gave it five stars. It’s available on its own as an ebook, or in a trade-paper collection that includes my own novella, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave. That’s how I discovered it, but it’s not why I love it–it’s just an awesome story.

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26 Comments

    • JH

      Thanks so much, Tami! I’m glad you liked it. I look forward to your post. I’m Norwegian and Swedish, and there’s so many fascinating legends and traditions.

      Reply
  1. I never heard about the Yule Cat before. I imagine he’s an urban legend made up by retailers trying to sell clothes. LOL

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, he goes back much farther than that, Lexa. He’s real, so best be wearing that ugly Christmas sweater!

      Reply
  2. And if those Krampus tales don’t chill you, watch Rare Exports!
    Merry Christmas, JH.

    Reply
    • JH

      Merry Christmas, Alex. Aw, you’re such a good guy–you always comment, even during the holidays.

      I’ll have to check out Rare Exports!

      Reply
  3. My mom grew up in Wittenberg, Germany so when St. Nicholas came to their door on The eve of Dec.6th to place goodies in their shoe, he was always with an angel not the demon, Krampus which is from the Bavarian province of Germany. I have kept up the trading of making my own Advent Wreath and decorating the tree with lights, ornaments and tinsel which I place on the tree one by one. This comes from my Oma who learned this from her mom and so on. When I was little, it was tradition that I always placed the little dog in the nativity scene and my brother placed the bear. My mom also always had a meltdown and cried around 3pm on Christmas Eve since she was trying to have everything perfect.

    Reply
    • JH

      I love all those traditions except the last one, Birgit. Your poor mom! Thanks so much for sharing them with me. German traditions are fascinating. Have you ever been to one of the Christmas villages in Germany? I’d love to go.

      I’d love to see your Advent Wreath too. Have you done a post about it?

      Merry Christmas!

      Reply
  4. Ha ha loved it JH thank you! My paternal grandmother was Norwegian so I know about a bit about creepy!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome. Any traditions to share, Susan? I’d love to hear about how you celebrate the holidays in South Africa.

      Reply
  5. I thought the names looked Scandinavian. I wonder if people used stories of terror to make the kids behave, even back then?!

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m sure. After all, there was no Elf on the Shelf in the olden days. 🙂

      Either that, or kids made them up to get away with stealing all the cookies!

      Reply
  6. I knew I remembered reading about the Yule Cat somewhere! I read J.G. Faherty’s “Winterwood” as well and I loved it! So much fun. =) My only tradition is to watch “The Nightmare Before Christmas” every year… I positively love that movie. I know some people consider it more a Halloween movie, but it puts me in the Christmas spirit. I hope you have a happy holiday!

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve only seen it once, Nikki, but you’ve inspired me to watch it again. I’ll have to check it out. Merry Christmas!

      And I’m glad you loved Winterwood too. I loved that a grandpa is the hero.

      Reply
  7. I’ve never heard of this before. I always learn something new over here on your blog. 🙂

    Wishing you a wonderful holiday season!

    Reply
    • JH

      Same to you, Madeline! And thanks for the kind words. I’m glad it’s not the same old-same old over here.

      Merry Christmas. 🙂

      Reply
  8. I recently got new underwear as a belated birthday gift from my Mother. Does that count against the Yule Cat? Not sure I’m cool with that part of the legend since it seems to be an attack against the thrifty and the poor. Not cool. Yule Lad legend is intriguing.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m sure new underwear qualifies. I look at it this way–either the Yule Cat can smell humans on older, pre-worn clothes OR parents made this up to convince their kids that clothes were a good gift. 🙂

      As for the Yule Lads, they’re intriguing until they’re stealing your sausage. 😉

      Reply
  9. The Yule cat might get me, since I haven’t bought any new clothes in ages! Most of the other creatures should leave us alone, since we don’t have much meat in the house (for now). These are some interesting legends. Trying to scare us over Christmas? 🙂 Happy Holidays to you, J.H. I hope you have a wonderful time. X

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Liesbet! You as well. I’d love to hear about the traditions you had while celebrating on the boat.

      As for the Yule Cat, avoiding him is pretty easy. Just stay in on the night of Christmas Eve. 🙂

      Reply
  10. I sense a horror movie in the making!

    It amuses me that the superstition that one must get new clothes to celebrate the birth of a prince of peace or else one will be EATEN ever happened.

    Happy holidays to you!

    Reply
  11. And just when I thought I’d weathered the ghosts and ghouls of October, you spring the Yule Cat on me. I’m off to the pet store to find some giant catnip plants. Get ’em drunk is my strategy.

    Have a beautiful Christmas–Yule Cat or no–and let us know if those Lads show up around your place. 🙂

    Reply
  12. My sausages have indeed been swiped! And here I was, blaming the two 16 year old boys who live in my house. Now I know better.

    Frohe Weihnachten!

    Reply
    • JH

      Hope you had a great holiday, Ryan. In spite of the stolen sausages. Now you know who to blame. 😉

      Happy New Year!

      Reply
  13. Ooh, the Yule Cat is a good excuse for new clothes! Happy Christmas 🙂
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      FINALLY, someone who appreciates the Yule Cat! People have been complaining about the ‘new clothes’ thing like you wouldn’t believe.

      Sheesh. I don’t make the rules. 😉

      Reply

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