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SWEDISH TRADITIONS

Will Sweden’s Christmas goat survive this year?

The straw goat beloved of arsonists in Gävle might stand a chance of survival this Christmas season thanks to its recent move from the city’s Slottstorget. Here’s a look at the history and stats of Gävlebocken and its chances for 2022.

Photo of Gävle's Christmas Goat
Mats Åstrand/TT Gävlebocken in its new temporary place at the inauguration at Rådhusesplanaden in Gävle.

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.

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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.

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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.

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SWEDISH TRADITIONS

What’s open and what’s closed in Sweden during Midsummer?

June 21st is Midsummer's Eve, which despite not technically being a public holiday is a day off for most workers in Sweden. How are shops, Systembolaget and public transport affected during the weekend?

What's open and what's closed in Sweden during Midsummer?

There is no blanket legal requirement on most shops to close for Midsummer in Sweden and when it comes to supermarkets and grocery shops, the chances are that they will be open, particularly if you live in a city, although probably with reduced opening hours.

Smaller shops will often choose to take the Midsummer weekend off, unless they’re in particularly popular areas where there are likely to be a lot of people celebrating.

The exception is the state-owned alcohol chain Systembolaget, which always closes on public holidays or so-called “red days”.

Midsummer’s Eve is not technically a public holiday, but it is usually treated as such, meaning Systembolaget will also be closed on June 21st (Midsummer’s Eve) and June 22nd (Midsummer’s Day). Systembolaget is always closed on Sundays, so Thursday 20th is your last day to buy booze for the weekend.

Libraries will also be closed, so it’s worth making other plans if you were planning on catching up with some coursework or taking your kids to the nearest one to keep them occupied.

As far as tourist attractions go, it varies. Many large attractions like Stockholm’s Vasa Museum and Abba Museum will be open, but you should expect that smaller local museums will be closed – check in advance before you plan to visit.

As a general rule, shops, restaurants and tourist attractions are more likely to be open in areas that attract a lot of visitors.

Stockholm’s open-air museum Skansen will also be open for the full Midsummer weekend, with activities from 10am until midnight on Friday, 11am until 11pm on Saturday and 11am until 3pm on Sunday. 

In southern Sweden, open-air museum Kulturen in Lund will also be open on Friday from 10am-5pm. Visitors can help decorate the maypole before dancing and singing around it, and the cafe will be serving Midsummer-themed food.

If you don’t have any plans yet, you can search for midsommarfirande plus your city to find a public event. These are often well-attended and family-friendly during the day, while some serve alcohol in the evening.

As with other public holidays, public transport in Swedish towns and cities may operate on a reduced schedule throughout the weekend – often on the same schedule as regular Sundays.

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