Every year in Sweden, a town puts up a giant straw statue of a goat. It’s to mark the beginning of the holiday season. Then they wait —and sometimes bet – on whether the goat will make it.
to Christmas. Because in the town of Gävle (say “yeah-vleh”), someone always tries to burn down the goat.
For hundreds of years, people in northern Europe have had big festivals in December. These festivals are known as Yule. Those traditions became part of Christmas celebrations in places like Sweden. One of these traditions is the Yule goat. In some stories, Christmas elves would ride the Yule goat door to door to deliver gifts to sleeping children. Just like Santa Claus does today.
In fact, small goats made of straw are still one of the most popular Christmas decorations in Sweden.
In 1966, the town of Gävle wanted something fun and Christmas-y for the town square. A giant Yule goat seemed like a great idea. It wasn’t. It also wasn’t great that the giant statue was made of super-flammable straw. Still, the first Gävle goat actually made it all the way to New Year’s Eve before being burned down.
Goat statues in other years haven’t been so lucky. In the past 56 years, the Gävle Yule goat has been destroyed at least 35 times!
The town has tried lots of different ways to protect their goat. They’ve had guards stationed, security cameras put up and fences raised. And the goat itself has been sprayed with water and flameproof chemicals. Some years the goat even survives the whole holiday season! But most years … it doesn’t.
In 2005, a group dressed as Santa and gingerbread men fired flaming arrows into the goat. Hackers in 2009 disabled the security cameras and set the goat on fire. An American tourist was arrested for burning down the goat in 2001. He said he’d been told by his Swedish friends that burning the goat was OK. He ended up spending two weeks in jail.
The 50th anniversary of the first Yule goat statue was in 2016. On November 27, the statue was unveiled. By night, it was up in flames.
It’s not always fire that gets the goat. In 1976, someone drove a car into the back legs of the statue, and it collapsed. Then in 2010, a security guard reported that he’d been offered a bribe. Two men planned on using a helicopter to fly away with the goat. The guard turned down the bribe.
The town of Gävle is stubborn. Over the years, they’ve been urged to stop building the goat. Or at least stop using the traditional straw. But they’re proud of their Yule goat. It’s been in the Guinness Book of World Records —for its size, not the fires. And every season, people visit the goat and take part in Yule celebrations. Part of the reason people come may be to see how long the goat will last. And some suspect that the town secretly likes all the attention. Stil, every year they promise that this goat will go the distance.
Surprisingly, the giant Yule goat was left alone for five years. Then in 2021, that streak came to an end when it was burnt to the ground.
Let’s see if the Yule goat makes it this year!