Gryla and The Yule Cat are Coming to Town, a poem by Vickie Johnstone at

Gryla and The Yule Cat are Coming to Town

Gryla and The Yule Cat are Coming to Town

written by: Vickie Johnstone



Deep in the lava fortress of Dimmuborgir in north Iceland,
enormous Gryla stomps the ground on her stamping feet,
screeches haunting the long hours of night like an owl.
Children, you better have behaved for the entire year,
because she keeps one ear listening to the earthy ground,
collecting whispers of naughtiness, all sealed up in a jar.

Her favourite dish is a stew made up of the Naughty.
On Christmas Eve, she digs out her old, woollen sack,
shakes out the mothballs, and hikes the snowy mountain,
her rumbling, hungry belly echoing through the trees.
The giantess scours the town’s cobbled streets and alleyways,
seeking the girls and boys whose voices are on her list.

Her husband, Leppaludi, says nothing and waits at home,
aware that all his predecessors were eaten when they questioned
the ingredients of the secret recipe of Gryla’s special stew.
Curled by the fire most of the day is the Yule Cat, Jolakotturinn,
a jet-black tom who never purrs, only scowls and hisses.
No one spots him in town til Christmas Eve when he slinks down,

leaving a trail of pawprints speckled silver in the driven snow.
Follow at your peril, for this man-eating beast will sniff you out
if you aren’t wearing brand-new clothes for the wintry season.
The farm workers who finished the autumn wool were all rewarded,
but those who didn’t went home empty-handed, and the Yule Cat
has a taste for human flesh. In Iceland, it pays to work extra hard.

Gryla’s children, an unlucky 13, arrive one by one,
alighting in town on the 13 nights before Christmas Eve.
These trolls breathe a distant chill as they come and steal,
and try to scare all the kids out of misbehaving,
swishing curtains as they sleep and hiding in cupboards,
their stumpy feet creaking the midnight floorboards.

The children daren’t poke their feet out of bed by night
in case something grips their heels and drags them out of sight,
leaving no bodies to be found in the bright dawn of day.
Those who have been good will be left a special gift,
but those who have been bad will get nothing that’s good.
It’s the law of the land when the 13 Yule Lads come out to play.

The Sheep-Cote Clod is first out to harass the teeny lambs,
while the podgy Spoon-Licker searches the house for scraps to eat.
The Bowl-Licker lays under the bed, eager for the nighttime soup,
while the Door-Slammer wakes up the sleeping from house to house.
No one dares open the curtains lest they see the Window-Peeper
a-creeping in the dark frame, terrifying anyone who gazes outside.

Icelandic parents used to tell these tales to scare their kids to sleep,
so they’d stay tucked up in bed and not wander out in the pitch,
and come home early by day, in case they got lost in the icy snow,
until a law in 1746 forced the adults to end this ‘silly nonsense.’
Now there are no scary stories to warn you when the nights draw in,
shadows shift in the candlelight, and something yawns beneath your bed.

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