Dec 21, 2018

Christmas Goat

        In the Swedish town of Gävle, about 100 miles north of Stockholm, residents have been erecting a giant straw goat in the town center since 1966. The Gävle Goat, also known as the Yule Goat and the Gävlebocken, may be a massive Christmas decoration, but there is never any guarantee that it will still be standing for the holiday. That is because there is a second, illegal annual Christmas tradition in Gävle. It is trying to burn down the Yule Goat before Christmas.
Yule goats have been a Christmas-time tradition in Sweden and elsewhere in Scandinavia for many centuries, though how exactly the practice got its start has been lost to history. During 1966, advertising consultant Stig Gavlén developed the idea of constructing a giant straw Yule goat for the holiday season, hoping it would function as something of an attraction to bring business to the shops around it.
The idea was subsequently executed by the town’s fire department. With funding provided by local businessman Harry Ström, they built a 43-foot tall, 23-foot long, 3-ton straw goat in the town center. It was completed on December 1, 1966 and it stood through that month. On New Year’s Eve, a vandal from a nearby town set the goat on fire. Being made of straw with a wood framework, it quickly burned to the ground.
During the following four years local merchants known as the Söders Köpmän (Southern Merchants) took over financing the Gävle Goat. For the first two years, nothing of note happened; the goat was put up and taken down with no issue.  Then in 1969, vandals managed to again set the goat aflame. The following year, they did it again. In fact, in the 1970 burning, drunken teenagers had managed to burn down the goat just six hours after construction of the goat was complete.
Fortunately for Gävle’s Yule Goat tradition, the Natural Science Club from the nearby School of Vasa took charge in 1971 and the Gävle’s Yule Goat lived on. Their first goat made it through the season without incident. However, sabotage in 1972 led to the goat’s collapse. Two years later, the goat was burned down once again and two years after that, it got hit by a drunk driver and was destroyed.
From the ashes of all this, the tradition of attempting to destroy the Gävle Yule Goat was born. Since 1980, the Gävle Goat has only managed to survive through the holiday season 13 times. This is despite the fact that a fire station is incredibly close by and several attempts have been made to make it more difficult for vandals to destroy the giant straw decoration. For instance, they tried spraying flame-retardant on the straw, only to have it wash off and the treated goat easily burned down.
Of course, despite all this and other efforts, half the fun of the tradition for many is seeing if the goat will make it to Christmas.
After years of trying, it appears they may have hit on the right mix of protection for the Gävle Yule tradition in 2014. After adding even better flame retardant chemicals that will not wash away easily, they moved a busy taxi stand to the town center right near the goat. They also positioned security personnel near the goat and had a 24-hour webcam trained on the decoration. Although there were reportedly a few close calls, the 2014 goat ultimately survived the Christmas season and was disassembled on December 29th, a bit earlier than previous surviving goats.

The 2015 Gävle Goat, which was erected on November 26th, made it through 2015’s Christmas but was burned down at approximately 3 am on December 27 by what police described as a heavily intoxicated man in his twenties. The man, who smelled of petrol, was caught red-handed carrying lighters and newspapers shortly after the goat was set ablaze. The man’s clothes were also singed as they briefly caught fire. Ah, fun traditions continue. . .

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