How the Willows Came to be Called Pussy Willows

Pussy Willows and catFrom The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 15, Number 15, 11 April 1896

The legend of cats and pussy willows. 

There was once a great city in Asia which was built so long ago that even the name of the city and of its people has been forgotten and everything else about it except one little story. The people were very fond of cats and there were great numbers of them all about the city. These people believed that cats were sacred animals, fed them well, treated them kindly, and when they died made little dummy cats out of them. When the city was very old there came a great flood which covered the earth. Cats do not like water, and when it began to rain so hard the cats and kittens were very unhappy. When the ground grew wet and muddy, they tried to find trees into which they could climb to keep dry. The old cats remembered that there was a great forest of big trees on some mountains a long way off, and they set out for it on the run. The kittens started too, but they could not run so fast or so far and their little legs grew tired trying to run through the deep mud, and so when they came to a row of tall willow trees beside the river, they climbed up and rested themselves in the forks made by the branches next to the tree trunks. It was comical to see the tall slender trees full of kittens, some white, some yellow, but most of them very cunning gray Maltese kits like balls of fur or little gray squirrels. Soon each kitten rolled itself into a ball with its head thrust snugly between its paws so as not to feel the rain and the cold, and went to sleep.

 

It rained harder and harder and the water rose higher and higher, until the earth was covered with water and only the treetops were left above the surface. As the wind drove the waves hither and thither, they struck on the tree trunks and splashed mud over the little kittens until there was a thick coating of sticky mud on them so they could not move, and one could see nothing but little brown balls along the branches. So, they stayed day after day till it stopped raining and the sun shone again. At last the water dried away and the earth appeared, but the kittens still slept, for the shell of mud over them was so thick they did not know the rain had stopped. But the sun shone warm upon them and dried the mud, until, as it dried, it cracked open and the sunshine reached the kittens underneath and one could see through the cracks of yellow white and gray fur. Then the little cats woke up, put their heads through the cracks and then pushed clear out. The shells of mud fell down to the ground, and it was like the blossoming of a flower, for all along the branches, where just before were the dull brown balls of mud, shone the soft, smooth, furry balls of gray and yellow and white. If you look at the willow trees and bushes beside the brooks in the month of March, you will find the little brown balls or buds all along the stems. If you watch them as the sun shines on them day by day, you will see the brown shells crack and you can see the gray, yellow and white fur underneath, till at last the brown shells will fall to the ground. Then you will see the dainty gay, white and yellow “pusses” or ” pussy-willows” all along the stems with their fur as smooth and as soft as the prettiest kitten you ever saw. A few days later you will see the strings of willow seeds hang down like little kittens’ fluffy tails. And so we call the willows ” pussy willows ” and call the string of seeds “catkins,” in memory of the little kittens of the old forgotten city and the way they lived safely through the days of the flood.

cat and willows

Today in Europe and America pussy willows are a symbol of spring and Easter. Pussy willows are sometimes carried on Palm Sunday instead of palm fronds.

In Iran, pussy willows are a part of the new year celebration of Nowruz on the first day of spring.

In Chinese tradition, the pussy willow is a symbol of prosperity. During Lunar New Year, stalks of pussy willows are sold in markets. These are then decorated with gold and red ornaments which symbolize prosperity for the new year.

Happy Easter cats

 

 

Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2020 Laura Vocelle

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: