Sweden’s bizarre Gavle goat arson tradition explained

T’is the season to be jolly or whatever, but for one city in Sweden, it may well be the season where someone risks a criminal record to burn down a giant straw goat.

Yes, really.

Every year in Gävle, a cute straw goat – known as the Gävle goat or Gävlebocken in Swedish – is erected in Castle Square as part of the area’s Christmas celebrations. This year’s ‘inauguration’ It takes place every Sunday.

It all sounds innocent enough, and that alone wouldn’t be enough for us to report on, but since it became a tradition in 1966, the goat has only survived the festive season on 18 occasions.

For all the other years the goat has been assembled in Gävle, it has been destroyed – more specifically, it’s been burnt down by members of the public who know straw is particularly flammable.

This goat isn’t Guy Fawkes. Before we send some angry Swedish lawyers a note, it is worth mentioning that the goat’s builders do burn the goat down every year. Do not desire.

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It’s also Very Much Illegal.

Yet that hasn’t stopped people, even when they faced growing challenges from people who very much did not want their goat turned to ash – who can blame them?

In its first year, it was burned down on New Year’s Eve. It was destroyed three years later in 1969.

Two teenagers who had been drinking set it on fire a year later. When local tradesmen weren’t so keen on their hard work being destroyed in 1971, the Natural Science Society of Vasaskolan took over goat-building duties, according to VisitGävle.se. The goat was also burned.

In 1972, it wasn’t even burned down. It collapsed.

Sometimes, however, it wasn’t clear what the fate was of the goat. This happened in the years 1973, 1975 and 1977.

In a shock twist, the goat didn’t burn down in 1976 – it was hit by a car instead.

Two years people got a little ahead of themselves, burning down the goat in 1979 and 1989 ahead of it being assembled in Gävle.

It was even listed in the Guinness Book of Records as a 12.5 m tall goat in 1985. Before that, however, it was destroyed.

Gävlebocken received a bit of an upgrade in 1987 when he was heavily fireproofed by the city.

It didn’t stop it from burning down, though.

A year on, things got worse: you could actually place a bet in Britain as to whether you thought the goat would survive or not – that year, miraculously, it did.

Unlawfully constructed alongside the goat was a commercial sleigh. While a slightly irritating installation, it didn’t detract from the fact that someone still managed to successfully set the goat alight that year, 1991.

Some years, it wasn’t even the fault of humans that the goat was destroyed. It was killed by a blizzard in 1998.

In 2001, the burning went international when a 51-year-old American tourist – thinking it was perfectly legal to burn down a giant straw structure of a goat – succeeded. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 days of imprisonment.

The situation became absurd four years later when arsonists took over. A gingerbread man and Santa Claus were reportedly on display. The goat was set on fire by a torch, and the arrow caused it to burst to its knees.

Over the years, more protective measures were added.

2009 saw webcams put in place to spot any suspected vandals attempting to do something they shouldn’t be doing.

The authorities didn’t plan for a denial of service attack, however, which took the cameras offline, while the goat was burned down.

Although the goat survived 2010, reports indicate that two men tried to persuade a guard to let them have it. You can steal it from the helicopter. It didn’t work.

The next year, Gävlesboken was covered in a layer of protected ice, only for that to melt and for the goat to be burned down.

The goat survived for four more years, including one year during the 2020 coronavirus epidemic. It then died a year later.

As the world waits for it next inauguration We’ll have to wait and see how much longer this goat can survive on Sunday (2:00 PM UK Time).

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