The Yule Goat, or Julbock, is a traditional ornament made out of straw and bound with red ribbons that you will see it in many Swedish homes during the Christmas season. The Julbock is said to have originated from Thor and his two trusty goats and then traditions have subsequently evolved throughout the ages. One tradition involves him playing a supervisory role, overseeing the Christmas preparations are being held properly and neighbours would trick each other by sneaking the goat into each other’s houses to remind them that they are being watched, because the pressure of your mother-in-law visiting wasn’t stressful enough! More recently the Julbock is now thought to attract presents by placing it under the Christmas tree.
What does the Gävle goat look like? See here.
The most famous Yule Goat can be found in the town of Gävle. In 1966, the tradition started of building a giant version of the straw goat in the centre of the town in Castle Square. However, in the first year at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, the goat was burnt to a crisp and since then almost every year the Gävle Goat succumbs to some sort of misfortune. The poor thing only has only a 45% survival rate of it still standing by Christmas!
Over the years, the town has put many things in place to help the Gävlebocken survive until the New Year but even covering the straw goat with a flame resistant coating didn’t slow down Father Christmas and a gingerbread man setting him alight by shooting flaming arrows at him. However, going up in smoke isn’t the only thing he has to worry about. In the past the goat has collapsed after being sabotaged on a couple of occasions including after being crashed into by a Volvo. One year a helicopter even swooped down into Castle Square in an attempt to kidnap him!
Only escaping destruction a small number of times has without a doubt made the goat famous and people now place bets as to how long the goat will survive. I should probably mention that burning the goat is actually an illegal act and not welcomed by most citizens of Gävle, as one American found out when he attempted to burn the goat down after assuming he was following a Swedish tradition but ended up with jail time instead. A couple of years ago the police were on the case when someone posted a photo online of 4 tattooed ankles displaying the burning Gävlebocken but that wasn’t proof enough.
Will this be a year the Gävle Goat survives? In the hope to deter potential vandals, this year the town is relocating their taxi rank into the square in order to bring more people into it. He will be set in position from 30th November and you can follow his twitter, blog, instagram and even his webcam to check on his progress or whether a calamity has occurred!