I had spent several hours in front of my computer watching the cursor flash against the empty Word document. I finally reach out to my beau in desperation, “I’m freaking out. I seem to have lost the ability to form even the smallest creative thought,” I said to him.
“Hmmm… you have a block,” he says. “Let’s see if we can figure something out to help you.”
“Ok, but at this point, I’m not even sure I can spell.”
“You just want too much. You need to think more simple,” he says. “Why don’t you write about the Gävle goat? Every year they try to burn that Christmas goat down.”
“Which goat?” I ask with eyebrows raised.
My beau lives in Göteborg, so here it is . . . a simple Christmas tale direct from the land of Sweden.
In the lovely little city of Gävle, north of Stockholm, stands a giant version of Sweden’s traditional Yule Goat. The goat is erected in the castle square, Slottstorget, on the first day of Advent which falls in late November or early December. Nearly every year, Christmas vandals strike and the giant goat goes up in flame.
The tradition of the Gävle Yule Goat goes back to 1966. Measurements vary from year to year but usually the thing is somewhere around 13-meter (43 ft) tall, 7-meter (23 ft) long. It’s towering frame is covered in straw, ribbon and lights, and it weights about 3 tons. I should, at this point, probably also tell you that there are in fact two goats. One is erected by the local association of the Southern Merchants and the other by a group of students from the Natural Science Club of Vasa. The history of the second goat, by the Natural Science Club, started in 1971 when the Southern Merchants became so frustrated with the burning of their goat that they gave it up for fifteen years. The folks at the Natural Science Club continued the tradition and hold the Guinness World Book record for the largest Yule Goat, but sadly their goat fared no better. In 1971, their little goat was kicked to pieces. The Southern Merchants got back into the game in 1986 and on that year their goat was burned down the night before Christmas Eve. Since 1966, Gävle’s goat has been burned down 24 times. It has also been run over by a car, kicked to bits (several times), had it’s legs broken off, and has been thrown into the river. Collectively, the two goats have been molested 39 times.
Now, contrary to what you might be thinking, the town of Gävle does not endorse the burning of their goat. Burning the goat is illegal and can result in stiff fines and even jail time. On November 25, 2010, Radio Sweden, reported that the American artist, Lawrence Jones, found guilty of burning down the goat in 2001, declares that a “secret society” of goat burners is responsible for the deed. The secret society would include the fire department of Gävle, and the organization and volunteers who erect the goat every year. Since 1966, only four people have been caught and fined for attacking the goat.
Many attempts have been taken to protect Gävlebocken (the goat) but it seems that despite a police presence, soldiers, dogs, security fences and 24 hour surveillance . . . the goat’s death is imminent. In November 2004, the Gävlebocken website (yes, he has a website) was hacked and one of the official webcams changed to display the words “Burn Bockjaevel” (translation: Burn the damn goat). That year the goat was torched on December 21.
In 2005, assassins dressed as Santa and the Gingerbread Man attacked the goat with a flaming arrow. They escaped and a manhunt for the arsonists was conducted on the weekly Swedish live broadcast TV3′s Efterlyst, Sweden’s version of “Most Wanted”.
2006 was the 40th anniversary of Gävle’s goat. Desperate times require desperate measures and a special fiber fireproofing agent, the kind of which is used on airplanes, was used to insure the goats safety. That goat did in fact remain through out the holiday but just barely. Gävle has since stopped using the fire proofing method because the Goat-Committee felt that the retardant detracted from the goat’s grandeur.
In 2008 and 2009, the goat burned.
“Wow,” I say to my beau. “You Swedes really hate that goat.”
“Nah. We don’t hate the goat . . . it’s just tradition, like a challenge. And that little town gets free PR and many visitors every Christmas.”
Well… more power to Gävle and it’s goat! You can find Gävlebocken blogging and on twitter @gavlebocken. Drop by and say hello, he is a very social media savvy goat. Check out his live Christmas webcam and see how he and his little brother are doing right NOW. (Gävle’s timezone difference is six hours ahead of the US east coast)
Lycka till Gävlebocken!