The Gävle Goat is a giant version of the Swedish Yule Goat traditionally built with straw on a wooden frame and inaugurated on the first day of Advent in late November or early December each year. From that day till the end of Christmas time, it is the subject of a thrilling battle between the municipal authorities and arsonists to see if it can be saved from destruction.
- The five weirdest attacks on Sweden’s arson-prone yule goat (thelocal.se)
- New Year Record: Swedish straw goat survives third Christmas in a row (thelocal.se)
- Sweden’s ill-fated yule goat burns down a week before Christmas (thelocal.se)
Although it is technically illegal to burn or damage the goat in any way, since its inception in 1966, the goat has been burnt to the ground more times than it hasn’t, despite all kinds of security measures.
In its first few years, ironically, it was constructed by the Gävle fire department and in a poetic turn of events it was first set on fire by an anonymous arsonist the very first New Year’s Eve after it was erected. The perpetrator was later found and convicted of vandalism.
Traditionally, if the goat is burned down before 13 December, the feast day of Saint Lucia, it is rebuilt. The skeleton is then treated and repaired, and the goat is reconstructed on top of it using straw which the Goat Committee has pre-ordered.
The saga continues, with some people proud of the huge goat, and others bent on destroying it, while bets are made on when and how much damage it might sustain, and inventive methods are employed on how to protect or destroy it.
In 2001, an American man visiting from Cleveland, Ohio was put in jail for 18 days and asked to pay a fine of 100,000 kronor after being accused of setting the goat on fire. The court confiscated his cigarette lighter with the argument that he clearly was not able to handle it. He stated in court that he was no “goat burner” and believed that he was taking part in a completely legal goat-burning tradition. After he was released from jail, he returned to the US without paying his fine.
- ‘Secret’ plan to protect Gävle Christmas goat from arsonists (thelocal.se)
- ‘It means so much’: Survival of straw Christmas goat celebrated like a World Cup win (thelocal.se)
On the Gävle goat’s 40th anniversary in the Christmas season of 2006, it was fireproofed with solvent bases and substances used on airplanes for maximum protection. The goat managed to remain undamaged that year.
Despite the authorities’ efforts, the goat has been damaged or destroyed a total of 38 times. On November 27th, 2016, an arsonist equipped with petrol burned it down just hours after its inauguration.
After a few flame-free years under 24-hour security, the goat was again burned on 17 December 2021. The fate of this year’s Gävlebock is yet to be decided.