Gävle Goat: The Christmas Goat That Vandals Can’t Keep Their Hands Off

Dec 23, 2016 1 comments

Every year for Advent, about a month before Christmas, the town of Gavle, in Sweden, builds a giant Christmas goat out of straw. And every year, arsonists do their best to bring it down.

The goat is a giant version of the Yule Goat, which has been a Christmas tradition in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries for many centuries, although its origin has been lost to history. The Gävle goat, on the other hand, began in 1966 as a way to attract customers to the businesses and restaurants in the southern part of the city. Since then, the Gävle Goat, also known as Gavlebocken, has been a Christmas symbol built ever year on the same spot. There is also a long standing tradition of someone destroying it, year after year, earning the goat a certain amount of international fame. Over the last fifty years, the goat has been burned, knocked down, and once thrown into the river, thirty seven times. The 2016 Gävle Goat did not even last 24 hours.


Photo credit: Johan Hansson/Flickr

Just to make it clear, the destruction of the goat is not officially part of Gavle’s tradition, but not everyone is aware of that. In 2001, an American tourist, mistaking the goat burning ritual to be legal, set the goat on fire and had to spend 18 days in jail. Most of the time, the act is committed under the cover of night and the perpetrators manage to escape. To date only four people have been caught or convicted for vandalizing the goat.

The city has tried everything to protect the Gavlebocken —guards, metal fences, security cameras, but to no avail. Cameras have been hacked, guards bribed or sneaked past and fences are no use to flaming arrows. They even tried to fireproof the goat but dew made the fireproofing substance drip off the structure.

Sometimes, the Southern Merchants —the group who finances the building of the goat— would rebuild it after damage only to be destroyed again. In 1971, just five years after the first goat the Southern Merchants became tired of the repeated arson and decided to stop making the goat. The Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa then took over, and started building their own goat; this one was called the Yule Goat. The first Yule Goat was small, only 6 feet high, but in subsequent years it became bigger and bigger until it became so large that it entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1985. That year the Yule Goat was 41 feet (12.5 meters) tall.

Envious of the Guinness title earned by the Natural Science Club, the Southern Merchants announced that the would start making the Gävle Goat once again. From 1986 onwards, there has been two goats in Gavle —one by the Southern Merchants, the original Gävle goat, and the Yule Goat by the Natural Science Club. Both are target to vandalism.

There is some serious rivalry between the two goat-builders. The Southern Merchants have been trying in vain to beat the Natural Science Club’s record for the largest goat. In 1993, the Natural Science Club humiliated them once again by erecting a 49 feet (14.9 meters) tall Yule Goat, once again earning a place in the Guinness Book of Records.


The burned Natural Science Club Goat in 2006, with the larger Gävle goat visible in the distance. Photo credit: Stefan/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Seppo Laine/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Johan Karlborg/Flickr


Photo credit: Casey Bisson/Flickr

Sources: Wikipedia / NPR


  1. The yule goat was envisioned as a distraction for scholars and criers to keep them from participating in making societal decisions. As of 2016, it seems to still be working.


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