Arsonists Torch Sweden’s Giant Yule Goat… Once Again

  • Here’s one Christmas tradition we could definitely do without.

There are many wonderful Christmas traditions in the world. Caroling, different kinds of confectionary and pastries, decorations, arson…

Wait, what?

Indeed, arson has become an unofficial Christmas tradition in the city of Gävle in western Sweden. Every year since 1966, the city builds the Gävlebocken, the world’s largest straw Yule Goat.

And sure enough, almost every year somebody destroys the goat, usually by burning it. Occasionally it survives, but that’s mostly because somebody stopped the vandals.

This destructive tradition played out again this year. On December 17, the Gävlebocken once again went up in flames.

“It’s just a week before Christmas and I cannot understand how a person can carry out this kind of attack to a Christmas symbol known all over the world,” Gävle spokeswoman Rebecca Steiner told the BBC.

Although the goat’s hopes of making it through Christmas went up in smoke, it had already had a historic run. For the past four years, the Gävlebocken had stood untouched through the entire holiday season.

Yeah, this thing’s survival record is four years.

Photos by Daniel Bernstål, courtesy of Visit Gävle.

Suspect Arrested

You can’t fault Gävle authorities for being lax on security, though. Over the years, the Gävlebocken has amassed an impressive number of security measures to protect it.

These include guards, a double fence, 24-hour CCTV surveillance, a public webcam feed, and dousing the goat in fire retarder. Still, the vandals are just as persistent.

Gävle’s other, smaller yule goat was burned down on December 12. That same weekend, guards caught a drunk man trying to jump the fences around Gävlebocken.

That probably gave them hope that they’d managed to save the goat this year. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.

In the early hours of December 17, the Gävle police received an emergency call. The caller said the Gävlebocken was ablaze.

Witnesses reported they’d seen a “tall and athletically built man,” dressed in dark clothes with a hood pulled over his head, leaving the scene as the goat caught fire. They also said he’d changed his clothes nearby, reported Swedish news outlet The Local.

Some locals confronted the man, but when questioned about what he’d been doing, he simply said that he “did not have a lighter.” After that, he went his way.

The police picked up the 40-year-old man later, though. He claims he’s innocent, but the cops said he did have “soot all over his hands.”

A History of Destruction

The Gävlebocken really doesn’t have a great track record. Out of the 55 times it’s been built, it has survived only on 19 occasions.

Most of the time, it has been destroyed by fire. Either an arsonist has lit it up, or it’s caught a spark from a stray firework.

Some vandals, though, have resorted to other means of destruction. In 1971 and 1978, the goat was smashed with clubs or simply kicked to pieces.

A student rammed his Volvo Amazon into the goat in 1976, causing it to collapse. In 1973, the goat survived, but only because a man stole it and placed it in his backyard.

But the most esoteric attempt came in 2010, when vandals had drafted plans to steal the goat with a helicopter. The plot didn’t work, though, and the Gävlebocken survived that year.

Sometimes, the goat has simply committed suicide. Both in 1972 and 1975 it collapsed under its own weight.

Even the arsonists get creative occasionally. In 2005, the goat was set on fire by a two men — one dressed as Santa and the other as a gingerbread man — using a bow and flaming arrows.

The Biggest Boy

Still, Gävle remains undaunted. As hellbent as malicious actors are to destroy the Yule Goat, the city is even more determined to build it again.

As mentioned, the Gävlebocken is the world’s largest Yule Goat. These caprine figures are a Nordic Christmas tradition that is believed to be linked to pagan solstice celebrations.

Usually, the Yule Goats are small enough to place on a windowsill or hang on a Christmas tree. But the Gävlebocken supersizes this ancient tradition.

According to Visit Gävle, the Gävle Goat is 42 feet tall and 23 feet long. Weighing a whipping 3.9 short tons, it’s no wonder that it occasionally buckles under its own mass.

Building the goat takes an entire truck-full of locally sourced straw. It takes 1,000 man-hours to construct, using up nearly a mile of rope tied into 12,000 knots and almost 4,000 feet of pine wood for the skeleton.

As delightful as the Gävlebocken tradition is, we have to admit… That’s a whole heck of a lot of flammable material.

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