Sweden’s Gavle goat burning is world’s most bizarre Christmas ritual

The world’s most attacked Christmas tradition has survived all the way through to the big day, with security measures deterring would-be arsonists.

An enormous straw goat in the centre of Gävle is frequently burned down by local vandals in a bizarre festive tradition.

The Gävle Goat – or Gävlebocken – has been erected in the eponymous town every year since 1966.

Constructed of straw it takes two days for members of the local community to put it together – and invariably someone destroys it, usually by burning it down.

To be clear, this isn’t some sort of Bonfire Night tradition or a Viking burial ritual, it’s a plain and simple case of arson.

Since it was first put up in the Gävle town square 56 years ago the goat has been burned down 38 times – that’s 67 per cent of the time, just over two-thirds.

The tradition (read: ‘crime’) goes back to the very first goat, which was set alight on New Year’s Eve 1966, having been put in place on December.

The Gävlebocken survived the following two years but in 1969 it was once again razed to the ground on December 31 and it’s been a constant battle with the arsonists ever since.

In 1970 it lasted just six hours before being set alight, prompting the tradesmen of Gävle to give up the goat-making business.

The local science society stepped in with a smaller goat made of reeds which was promptly smashed to pieces.

Over the following decade Gävlebocken met a number of grisly fates including implosion, assault with a car and, in 1979, being burned before it had even been put up.

The year 1985 saw the goat enter the Guiness Book of Records as the world’s largest straw goat, standing 12.5m tall, before being torched.

By the mid-1990s increased security, including the Swedish Home Guard, kept the structure standing for two consecutive years before it was burned down on Christmas morning of 1995.

Gavle goat (Image: Gavle)

The following year a webcam, which can still be followed today, was introduced and did its job but the later part of the decade proved to be a Gävlebocken genocide as it burned every year between 1997 and 2001.

If this all sounds like a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, the crime is taken extremely seriously in the Swedish town.

In 2009 the pyro enthusiasts hacked the webcam to avoid detection, but last year’s assailant wasn’t so lucky – he was sentenced to six months in prison after being caught on camera.

It’s not just fire that the guards have to be wary of – the straw colossus was almost kidnapped in 2010.

According to Swedish newspaper Realtid, a guard was offered 50,000 kroner to leave the goat for five minutes, during which time it would have been snatched by helicopter and taken to Stockholm.

The guard also recalled a suspected sabotage by an old woman in her 80s offering him hot chocolate and sandwiches as a distraction. He told the newspaper: “If the goat had burned on my shift I’d never have shown my face in town again”.

A thief actually did succeed in stealing the goat in 1973, but was caught when he displayed it in his garden and sentenced to two years in prison.

This year’s goat still has until December 31 if it’s to add its name to the list of survivors.

Related Articles

Back to top button