The strange legend of the Swedish Christmas goat | Articles
(Mats Astrand/TT/AFP via Getty Images)
Every year in Sweden, a city puts up a giant straw statue of a goat. It is to mark the beginning of the holiday season. Then they wait – and sometimes bet – on whether the buck will make it to Christmas. Because in the city of Gävle (say “yeah-vleh”), someone is always trying to burn down the goat.
Why a goat?
For hundreds of years people in northern Europe had big festivals in December. These festivals are known as Yule. Those traditions became part of the Christmas celebration in places like Sweden. One of these traditions is the Yule Goat. In some stories, Santa Clauses ride the Santa Claus from door to door to deliver presents to sleeping children. Just like Santa does today.
Small goats made of straw are actually still one of the most popular Christmas decorations in Sweden.
How did it become an annual tradition?
In 1966, the city of Gävle wanted something fun and Christmas-like for the square. A giant gurget seemed like a good idea. It was not. It also didn’t help that the giant statue was made of super-flammable straw. Nevertheless, the first Gävlebock actually made it all the way to New Year’s Eve before it was burned down.
Goat statues other years have not been so lucky. In the last 56 years, the Gävle Yule Goat has been destroyed at least 35 times!
So many ways to protect it, so many ways to destroy it
Before and during a wildfire. (Per-Erik Jaderberg/AFP via Getty Images)
The city has tried many different ways to protect its goat. They have had guards stationed, security cameras set up and fences erected. And the goat itself has been sprayed with water and flame retardant chemicals. Some years the goat even survives the entire holiday season! But most years… it doesn’t.
In 2005, a group dressed as Santa and gingerbread men shot flaming arrows at the goat. Hackers in 2009 disabled the security cameras and set fire to the trestle. An American tourist was arrested for burning the goat in 2001. He said he had been told by his Swedish friends that it was OK to burn the goat. He ended up spending two weeks in jail.
The 50th anniversary of the first urget statue was in 2016. On November 27, the statue was unveiled. At night it was in flames.
Some of the weirdest attacks
It’s not always the fire that gets the goat. In 1976 someone drove a car into the statue’s back leg and it collapsed. Since 2010, a security guard reported that he had been offered a bribe. Two men planned to use a helicopter to fly away with the goat. The guard refused the bribe.
Why not give up the goat?
(Pernilla Wahlman/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)
The city of Gävle is stubborn. Over the years they have been urged to stop building the goat. Or at least stop using the traditional straw. But they are proud of their bravery. It has been in the Guinness Book of World Records – for its size, not for the fires. And every season, people visit the goat and participate in the Christmas celebration. Part of the reason people come may be to see how long the goat lasts. And some suspect the city secretly likes all the attention. Yet every year they promise that this goat will go far.
Surprisingly, the giant Christmas goat was left alone for five years. Then in 2021, that streak ended when it burned to the ground.
Let’s see if the Yule Goat can make it this year!