Gavle Goat: The Swedish Traditional Display That Vandals Burn Down Every Year

By | December 18, 2020

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(Stefan/Wikimedia Commons)

Every year in Gävle, Sweden, the locals celebrate Christmas by erecting the Gävle Goat, a massive version of the Swedish yule goat. Made of wood and straw and decorated with lights and ribbon, the goat towers over the city square from the beginning of the advent until the end of the holiday season ... if it survives. Over the past 50 years, the Gävle Goat has been destroyed 35 times. Officials have done everything in their power to stop arsonists from burning the goat, but it looks as if nothing can stop their fiery Christmas tradition.

Christmas In Sweden

Christmas in Sweden in a multi-week celebration that begins on the first day of Advent, traditionally at the end of November, and lasts until St. Knut's Day on January 13. Modern festivities celebrate Sweden's pagan roots, including the yule goat, who has transformed over the years from a malevolent Christmas spirit who traveled from home to home demanding gifts to a kindly figure who checks in on families to make sure they've decorated properly for the season. Families decorate their trees with straw goats, and it's entirely possible that the arsonists behind the Gävle Goat's various demises see the act as a nod to pagan mythology as well, with its legends of animal sacrifice. It's just as likely that people just like setting stuff on fire, though.

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(Mikael Johansson/Wikimedia Commons)

The First Gävle Goat

In 1966, advertising consultant Stig Gavlén had the bright idea of placing a giant yule goat in the Gävle city square, hoping such a festive spectacle would drive tourism and boost sales at local shops. By December 2, 1966, the inaugural Gävle Goat stood just over 42 feet tall in the middle of the town square, but as the clock struck 12 on New Year's Eve, the goat was set on fire and burned to the ground.

The first arsonist to burn down the Gävle Goat was arrested and charged with vandalism, but that did nothing to deter future firebugs from picking up where the original vandal left off. In 1967 and '68, the goat survived the holiday, thanks in part to the addition of a protective fence, but in 1969, the goat went up in flames once again on December 31.