Christmas traditions are based on different practices and cultures, frequently giving those who practice it a festive feeling. But did you know that the town of Gälve has a unique Christmas tradition?
The Gälve Goat is a Swedish tradition that started way back in 1966. It is a giant goat made out of straw built at the beginning of Advent and has been a target of arson attacks over the years.
The History of the Yule Goat
In Northern Europe, ancient pagan festivals were held in December. These festivals were called Yule and incorporated in the Christmas tradition in places like Sweden. Part of the old festival tradition was the belief in the importance of the yule goat. The goat was connected to the worship of the Norse God Thor. (Source: Carnegie)
It was believed that Thor rode the sky on a chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngnjóstr or teeth grinder, and Tanngrisnir, or teeth bearer. Since then, the Yule goat has been a common symbol for the Christmas season of the Swedes.
Another theory on the importance of the goat during Yule is that it was believed that Santa Claus would ride a Yule goat to deliver presents. As it soon became the practice during Christmas, in 1966, a local business owner in Gälve financed the creation of a large version of the goat to attract business to the city. (Source: Mental Floss)
The first goat was 23 feet long and about 45 feet high. It was made entirely with straw, keeping to the tradition of how Yule goats were made, along with red ribbons that kept it bound.
The giant goat became part of the city’s Christmas tradition, with its people building the goat consistently despite numerous attacks on it. The goat also made its way to the Guinness World Records in 1985. Today, the goat’s construction follows a few standardized steps. (Source: Carnegie)
- The goat is constructed to stand 42 feet high and 23 feet long
- It usually weighs around 3.6 tons
- 5,249 feet of rope are used
- 12,000 knots are tied
- 56 16 feet of straw mats form the straw coat
- 3,900 feet of Swedish pine create the wooden skeleton
(Source: Visit Gavle)
Attacks on the Yule Goat
As the gigantic straw goat tradition started in 1966, so did the annual tradition of people trying to destroy the goat. It first started in the first year the goat was put up. A local pyromaniac successfully burned down the goat on New Year’s Eve.
Attempts on destroying the goat have been creative over the years, and the city has taken preventive measures to try and deter these attempts. Security teams and cameras guard the goat. There were also laws to punish those who destroyed the giant Christmas animal.
Here are some of the most creative ways the goat was destroyed or vandalized. In 1976, a citizen owning a souped-up Volvo rammed the goat, causing it to fall and be destroyed. In 1991, some vandals built a commercial sleigh beside the goat as a moniker before burning the goat down a few days later.
In 2001, an American tourist thought burning down the goat was a legal activity and proceeded to do so. He was jailed for 18 days. In 2005, people dressed like Santa Claus and Gingerbread Man shot the goat with flaming arrowheads. The goad burned instantly. In 2010, two men allegedly tried to steal the goat by helicopter. They were unsuccessful in bribing the guard who was stationed on the goat. (Source: Mental Floss)