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Cheers to Swedish Culture and the Gävle Goat

by Norwegian Chef Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 10:02:04 AM EST

We Norwegians love to point out the pinnacles of high culture obtained by our eastern neighbour, Sweden.  Nowhere is this Swedish high culture better exhibited than in the annual Christmas erection of the Gävle Goat.  It is kind of long and convoluted, but if any of you remember Rose (Betty White) from the Golden Girls and her tales of St Olaf, "long and convoluted" is essential part of any Scandinavian saga.

From the diaries -- whataboutbob


Gävle is a sleepy little town on the east coast of Sweden north of Stockholm, and here is how the local townsfolk celebrate their festive season.  

The history of the Gävle Goat or "Julbocken i Gävle" began in 1966. An advertising consultant, Stig Gavlén, came up with the idea of making a giant version of the traditional Swedish Yule Goat and placing it in the square. Ironically, considering its later history, the design of the first goat was assigned to his brother Jesper Gavlén, who at that time was the chief of the Gävle fire department. The construction of the goat was carried out by the Gävle fire department, and they physically erected the goat from 1966 to 1970 and 1986 to 2002.

The first goat was financed by a man named Harry Ström. On 1966-12-01 a 13 metre (421⁄2 foot) tall, 7 metre (23 foot) long, 3 tonne goat was erected in the square. At the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, the goat went up in flames in a shameless arson attack.

The goat has since had a history of being burnt down almost every year, 2005 being the 22nd time. The financing for the initial goats came from a group of businessmen known as the Southern Merchants (Söders Köpmän), so named because all their members were located on the southern side of the "Gävle creek"(Gävleån), a river that runs through central Gävle dividing the town into north and south. In 1971, the Southern Merchants became so fed up with the continual burning of their goats, that for 15 years they stopped building them and the task was taken up by the Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa. The Natural Science Club's Yule Goat fared no better, and, as well as being burnt and vandalised, one year it was even run over by a car. English bookmakers made it possible to bet on the goat's destiny from 1988. In 1996 the Southern Merchants introduced webcams to monitor the goat 24 hours a day, with little or no success.

 On 2004-11-27 the Gävle Goat's homepage was hacked into and one of the two official webcams changed to display "Burn Bockjaevel" (translation: Burn Fucking Goat) in the left corner of its live feed. One year when they had guards posted around the goat the temperature dropped way below zero. The guards thought they ought to go inside to get something to warm them up. They went into a nearby restaurant, but before they even had a chance to raise their glasses they saw flames shooting from the goat outside the window. The 3rd and 4th of December, 2005 was, thus far, the most violent weekend for public Yule Goats around Sweden. The Gävle Goat was burnt on the 3rd and the weekend escalated into a frenzy of copycat goat-burning. The Visby goat on Gotland burned down, the Yule Goat in Söderköping, Östergötland was torched, and there was an attack on a goat located in Lycksele, Västerbotten. That goat escaped with only minor burn marks on the legs.


Charred remains of the 2004 Goat.

The price tag for constructing the goat is around 100,000 Swedish kronor (as of 2005). The cost for the 1966 goat was SEK 10,000. The city pays one third of the cost while the Southern Merchants pay the remaining sum. Since 2003 construction of the goat has been undertaken by a group of unemployed people (called ALU arbetare). Nowadays, if the goat is burned down before Lucia (feast day of Saint Lucy, the 13th of December) it will be rebuilt. The Gävle Goat is erected every year on the first day of Advent, which according to Western Christian tradition is in late November or early December, depending on the calendar year. Recently the so-called "Goat Committee" have had a plan for a backup goat. Because the fire station is close to the location of the goat, most of the time the fire can be extinguished before the robust wooden skeleton is severely damaged. The skeleton is then treated and repaired, and the goat reconstructed over it, using straw which the Goat Committee has pre-ordered.

Burning the goat is an illegal act and can result in severe fines or even prison time for arson. It should be mentioned though, that during the 39 years of the Gävle Goat's history up to 2005, only 4 people have been caught or convicted. The burning of the Gävle Goat is not officially welcomed by the citizens of Gävle, but undoubtedly this is what has made the goat world famous and led to increased tourism for the city.

The hunt for the arsonist responsible for the goat-burning in 2005 was featured on the weekly Swedish live broadcast TV3's "Most Wanted" ("Efterlyst") on 2005-12-08. "Most Wanted", which has been running since 1990, shows reconstructions of serious crimes committed in Sweden and requests assistance from the public in solving them. In one of their most bizarre segments they asked the public to help track down two suspected arsonists, a man in a Santa mask and a man dressed as a gingerbread man, wanted for burning down the Gävle Goat

The Christmas season of 2006 marks the 40th anniversary of the Gävle Goat and on Sunday December 3 the city held a large celebration in honor of the goat. The Goat Committee says that this year's goat is not going to be able to be set on fire because it is fireproofed with "Fiber ProTector Fireproof", a fireproofing substance that is used in airplanes. In earlier years when the goat has been fireproofed the dew has made the liquid drip off the goat. To prevent this from happening in 2006 "Fireproof ProTechtor Solvent Base" has been applied to the goat. The Goat Committee's faith in the fireproofing this year has led them to cut down the guard and furthermore, they have boldly claimed that "the goat will never burn again". Freddy Klassmo, the spokesman for the company that provides the fireproof of 2006 also states: "not even napalm can set fire to the goat now". No one believes them, not even the chief of the Gävle fire brigade.

However despite this foreboding, you will all be happy to know that the Gävle Goat survived the 2006-2007 festive season and  has now been dismantled and stored in a secret location only known to the Lord Mayor.

So congratulations to the 2006 Members of the Gävle Goat Committee for their success in preserving the yule beast for one of the few years in its history.

    * Chairman: Kurt Lagerholm
    * Chairman of Southern Merchants: Per-Olof Engström
    * Cashier of Southern Merchants: Petter Lindqvist
    * Director of Gävle City information center: Anna Östman
    * Supervisor of the construction team: Håkan Ollikalla
    * Specialist of the yule goat: Göran Carlsson
    * Master of fireworks: Eje Berglund

A full history, plus a year by year timeline of the annual fate of each Gävle Goat can be found on Wikipedia

Link Here.

as well as various charts of graphs showing the annual goat erection and survival rates and other useful statistics.  A wall of the Burnt Goat Café (Brända Bocken) in Gävle is also dedicated to Goat pictures and stats.

So raise a glass of good lingonberry vodka to those great folks in Sweden and their endless pursuit of some of the world's highest cultural standards. ;-).

Cross posted from Cheers and Jeers on Daily Kos

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Great culture piece...love it! Thanks!

(I'm also hoping someone in Italy posts something on the Italian Christmas of January 3rd (which involves the 3 kings bringing gifts...not Santa!!)

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 09:58:37 AM EST
The Epiphany is celebrated on the 6th of January, not the 3rd.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 10:00:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Exactly...the 6th...not the 3rd...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 10:03:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
RE: the abduction of pagan festivals by Christianity.

In Nordic mythology, it was the goat tthat brought presents around this time. It wasn't much of a tradition change from one kind of bearded animal to another = Santa Claus. In fact Santa's name in Finnish is Joulupukki or Yule Buck (goat).

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 10:32:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Looking at the picture, I understand why they want to burn it... I would, too!

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 10:31:36 AM EST
In fact, I like the burnt one much more...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 10:33:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Definitely. The burning is an important part of the tradition. Hopefully they will find a way around those fire protection measures. Otherwise the goat is nothing but an uninteresting pile of straw on a wooden frame. Burn, goat, burn! We must have ritual enactments of production/destruction of symbolic entities!
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 11:57:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A little bit like Las Fallas in Valencia , Spain. Probably froma  symbolic (oh damn anthropology) point of view very similar.

Love it.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Jan 4th, 2007 at 03:21:20 PM EST
I lived 30 years in Sweden and never understood that the billy (Julbocken) had an annual Christmas erection.
by oldfrog on Fri Jan 5th, 2007 at 05:01:23 AM EST
This diary is awesome.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri Jan 5th, 2007 at 05:25:12 AM EST


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