Cats are well-known at Halloween, but did you know they also play a role in some Christmas traditions? From scary to silly and downright adorable legends, kitties have been part of winter festivities in Scandinavia for hundreds of years.
The oldest feline Christmas figure is Iceland’s ferocious Jólakötturinn, the Yule Cat. According to Medievalists.net, stories of the Yule Cat were first recorded around 1180 AD in Viking sagas. The “monstrously huge black cat” enters homes the night before Christmas, fascinated with the bright decorations of the household Christmas tree. (If your cat is also intrigued by your Christmas tree, see our blog about keeping your cat and tree safe from each other: https://www.armarkat.com/blog/the-christmas-tree-your-cats-holiday-nemesis/). However, the Yule Cat isn’t there to climb the Christmas tree or crash it- the prowling feline’s goal is actually to inspect the presents under the tree. If the Yule Cat does not discover any clothing in the packages, it will eat the children of the family!
Later storytelling was much less harsh to the Yule Cat’s character. The Yule Cat took on a more discerning role as a feline who, along with some supernatural accomplices, evaluates children for their behavior throughout the year. The cat’s intuition informs it if a particular child has been naughty or nice. Perhaps you’ve never heard of a kitty that could put Santa out of a job! The Yule Cat is accompanied by an ogre named Grýla whose thirteen mythical children called Jólasveinar (Yule Lads) cause mischief on Christmas Eve, giving poorly behaved children rotten vegetables.
Christmas cats in Danish folklore don’t possess any magical qualities, but they still capture the hearts of adoring Danes. Atlas Obscura describes a Danish tradition of leaving rice porridge outside on Christmas Eve to feed elves called nisse. Nisse are known for being very playful and kind-spirited if they are fed well, so they are sometimes depicted playing with the family cat.
While in Denmark, I learned that the real consumer of the rice porridge, however, is the cat themself. Knowing the reality that the porridge will be eaten by their cats, some modern Danes view the tradition as a treat for their favorite felines. Christmastime has become a season for doting on their kitties even more than usual. In fact, data from the years 2015 through 2020 shows that during that time period, nearly one-third of all Danish households owned at least one cat (information provided by Statista).
However, you don’t need rice porridge to dote on your cat. Armarkat’s holiday sale has plenty of gift options that are purrfect for your kitty’s health and happiness: https://www.armarkat.com/sales/.
Quote of the day: “For an animal person, an animal-less home is no home at all.” - Cleveland Amory, The Cat Who Came for Christmas
Atlas Obscura, “The Danish Christmas Porridge That Appeased a Vengeful 'House Elf'”
Medievalists.net, “The Yule Cat of Iceland: A Different Kind of Christmas Tradition”
Statista, “Share of households owning at least one cat or dog in Denmark in selected years”