It's one of the most bizarre (and hilarious) Christmas traditions in the world. Every year since 1966, the good people of Gävle, Sweden build a giant, beautiful Christmas goat in the town square. And almost every year, arsonists burn the poor goat to the ground. For 41 years, the town has erected the wood and straw goat, sometimes more than once, to celebrate the Yuletide season and for all but 17 years of those years, the goat has met a tragic end of fire and destruction.
Reading the history of The Gävle Goat is hysterical.
1966: Destroyed by fire
1969: Destroyed by fire
1970: Destroyed by fire just 6 hours after construction
1971: Smashed to Bits
1976: Hit by a car
1977: Destroyed by fire
1978: Kicked to pieces
1979: The first goat burned before construction was completed, the second goat got built but later broken into pieces
1987: Heavily fireproofed; destroyed by fire
1989: Two destroyed by fire
2005: Burned by vandals dressed as Santa Claus and the gingerbread man who used a flaming arrow
2010: Failed attempt to steal the goat using a helicopter; goat ultimately survived
2011: Goat sprayed with water to create a protective ice coating; unseasonably warm weather melted ice; destroyed by fire
On and on it has gone. Build the goat, burn the goat. In 2016, the goat was set alight less than 24 hours after it was constructed. Later, a group of high school students replaced the goat with a smaller, replica goat. That goat was hit by a car and destroyed.
Why do the people of Gävle keep doing this? Is it possible they find it as hilarious as the rest of us? They don't, they take it very seriously. It's an important tradition for the people and every year thousands turn out for the official debut. They also take the protection of the ill-fated goat very seriously. This year, 2017, they have added guards, webcams and not one, but two fences. Of course, in 2005 (the Santa Clause and Gingerbread Man), the vandals shot flaming arrows into the Gävle Goat, so none of the current security measures would have been effective anyway. In the past, it has seemed the more security they add, the more determined the vandals get!
Who are the vandals? Is it an organized group?
The lone American that has his name attached to the lore, Ohioan Lawrence Jones, burned it down in 2001 after being tricked by Swedish friends into believing that it was legal to do so. It is, in fact, not and Jones spent 18 days in jail and well as having to pay 100,000 Swedish kronor in damages. Then in 2010, Jones said there is a secret society that plans and coordinates the arson every year, but it's never been proven. In fact, Lawrence Jones is one of the very few people apprehended and held responsible for the vandalism. Usually, the perps get away scot-free.
The goat, or goats, as often more than one is constructed, go back to the mid-sixties when a local businessman came up with the idea to build a traditional Swedish Yule Goat in the town square. The first goat was 43 feet tall, 23 feet wide and weighed 3 tons. On New Year's Eve, 31 days after its construction, the goat was burned down for the first time. By 1971, a group of local merchants joined in and paid for the construction of the goat and by then, the destructive tradition of burning the goat was in full swing. In 1986, there was a rift between organizers and a second group, The Natural Science Club, started building their own, smaller goat nearby. That goat has been met with much the same fate as the original.
Traditionally, if the goat is burned before the Feast Of St. Lucia, an important day in Swedish holiday season, they rebuild the goat. If it is burned after, they don't.
No matter what they seem to do or what plans they come up with the stop the destruction, the arson continues. From guards to webcams to fireproofing, nothing seems to work. So sure are people that it will burn, you can even place bets with British bookmakers. So next time you sit down in front of the fire this Christmas season, pour a little eggnog out for the Gävle Goat, the Christmas Goat that almost never makes it to Christmas.
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