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However, another way to make sure Jólakötturinn doesn’t get you is to be generous. You don’t necessarily have to wear new clothes yourself — if you gifted new clothes to the less fortunate, the Yule cat will leave you alone.

In some versions of the story, the Yule cat doesn’t eat the people, only their food and presents — which still sounds like a nasty creature.

It’s still traditional in Iceland to give children a little something new to wear before Christmas “so that the Christmas cat doesn’t get you” — although, of course, no one really believes in its literal existence.

Here is a famous poem by Jóhannes úr Kötlum, one of Iceland’s most beloved poets, describing the beast:

You know the christmas cat
– that cat is very large
We dont know where he came from
nor where he has gone
He opened his eyes widely
glowing both of them
it was not for cowards
to look into them
His hair sharp as needles
his back was high and bulgy and claws on his hairy paw
were not a pretty sight
Therefore the women competed
to rock and sow and spin
and knitted colorful clothes
or one little sock
For the cat could not come
and get the little children
they had to get new clothes
from the grownups
When christmas eve was lighted
and the cat looked inside
the children stood straight and red-cheeked
with their presents
He waved his strong tail
he jumped, scratched and blew
and was either in the valley
or out on the headland
He walked about, hungry and mean
in hurtfully cold christmas snow
and kindled the hearts with fear
in every town
If outside one heard a weak “meaow”
then unluck was sure to happen
all knew he hunted men
and didnt want mice
He followed the poorer people
who didnt get any new clothing
near christmas – and tried and lived
in poorest conditions
From them he took at the same time
all their christmas food
and ate them also themselves
if he could
Therefore the women competed
to rock and sow and spin
and knitted colorful clothes
or one little sock Some had gotten an apron
and some had got a new shoe
or anything that was needful
but that was enough
For pussy should not eat no-one
who got some new piece of clothes
She hissed with her ugly voice
and ran away
If she still exists I dont know
but for nothing would be his trip
if everybody would get next christmas
some new rag
You may want to keep it in mind
to help if there is need
for somewhere there might be children
who get nothing at all
Mayhaps that looking for those who suffer
from lack of plentiful lights
will give you a happy season
and merry christmas.