Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Cat and the Cradle

You’ve probably heard “cat’s in the cradle,” if not only from the line in the Harry Chapin song, but you may not realize that this saying originated from a Dutch legend.  The elaboration of the story seems to vary from place to place.

The basic gist of it is that once there was a big flood of torrential waters, and while checking on the drainage after the storm, a man saw something floating on the water and realized it was a cradle.  He decided that sadly nothing inside it could possibly be alive, because the water had been so tempestuous, but as it floated nearer, he saw that a cat was actually rocking the cradle back and forth in the water by jumping from end to end—apparently to keep the water out.  When the cradle drifted close enough to the man, he was amazed to find a baby girl in the cradle, alive and well despite the long stormy night.

Another source I came to says that the little girl had already once been saved from an untimely death—this was extremely long ago, when food and resources were scarce, so often baby girls were left to die in favor of raising up strong boys who could be warriors, but a girl child was allowed to live if they were ever given so much as a taste of food—milk, honey, what have you.  This girl was meant to be left to die on orders of her grandmother (the matriarch in the family has all the say) but she was hidden by a nursemaid and her parents, and cared for secretly.

The cat was a pet and became a playmate of the little girl, and supposedly cared for her more than for her own kittens, so when the flood came, the cat let her kittens fend for themselves, thinking that kittens are more apt to take care of themselves and run around and whatnot than a baby is, so the cat jumped into the cradle with the baby and they floated off together.  This other reference also says that it was not a man but a boy that found the baby, and that eventually the two were married.  It even says that there is still today a statue of the cat over the woman’s tomb, and that every year on Santa Klaas day (December 5th) the children in the village put a new collar on the cat’s statue, and remember the story about the cat that saved a little girl’s life.

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About Lisa Asanuma

Lisa is a professional freelance writer and editor, along with a bookbinder and knitting obsessee. Lisa has a passion for YA literature (inside her passion for literature in general) and is currently working on her first novel. View all posts by Lisa Asanuma

3 responses to “Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Cat and the Cradle

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