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Advent Calendar 2022: The weirdest attacks on Sweden’s Christmas goat

Every winter, people around the world turn their eyes to Gävle's Christmas goat, eagerly waiting to see if it survives the Christmas season. Here's a look at some of the most outrageous attempts to destroy the iconic straw goat throughout its history.

Advent Calendar 2022: The weirdest attacks on Sweden's Christmas goat
The Gävle Goat in happier times. Photo: Camilla Wahlman/TT

Every year the massive Christmas goat (Gävlebocken) in the Slottstorget square in Gävle, central Sweden, attracts a media storm with locals dreaming up new ways to protect the 13-metre-high creation.

Despite their efforts, including in some years spraying the goat in anti-flammable liquid, the goat usually goes up in flames long before Swedes have opened their Christmas presents.

In 2016 it burned down on its opening day. Last year, after surviving for a record-breaking four consecutive years, the goat burned down a week before Christmas.

In a bizarre coincidence (or is it?) the building of the first goat in 1966 was assigned to the chief of Gävle’s fire department, Jörgen Gavlén, whose brother Stig Gavlén, an advertising consultant, had come up with the idea of making a giant version of the traditional Swedish Yule Goat and placing it in the square.

It would not be the city fire department’s last dealings with the goat…

READ ALSO: Is Gävle Sweden’s most random city?

Over its six-decade history, it has survived only 19 times.

It’s fair to say that the drama of the goat’s fate is now at least as big a draw as the goat itself, to the extent that Swedish and international bookmakers now offer odds on the goat surviving the season of Advent. You can even watch the goat live here.

Over the years, there have been some extraordinary attempts to destroy the goat.

Here is The Local’s list of the five most outrageous Gävle Goat attacks.

1976 – battered by a souped-up Volvo

A student drove a customised Volvo Amazon at the rear legs of the goat, precipitating its collapse.

A customized Volvo Amazon (not this one) was used to destroy the goat in 1976. Photo: Niklas Larsson/TT

1998 – burned down during a major blizzard

Burning down a straw goat is probably not the hardest thing to do given the right sort of dry conditions. But torching one during a major blizzard? That’s what the vandals achieved in December 1998.

The remains of the goat, burned during a huge 1998 blizzard. Note the mounds of snow. Photo: Mikael Johansson/Wikimedia Commons

2001 – burned down by baffled American tourist

On December 23, a 51-year-old American artist, Lawrence Jones, was apprehended, lighter in hand, as he watched the goat burn. 

He told police he had been misled by Swedish friends, who insisted torching the straw goat was a perfectly legal Swedish tradition.

He spent 18 days in prison and was fined 100,000 kronor which he has not paid.

In 2010, he alleged that there was a secret society, involving all the people and organizations responsible for building the goat, who planned each burning or attack.

The goat in the midst of being constructed. Photo: Pernilla Wahlman/TT

2005 – burned down by arrow-wielding Santas and gingerbread men

Vandals reportedly dressed as Santa Claus and gingerbread men shot a flaming arrow at the goat on December 3rd. 

The hunt for the arsonists responsible for the goat-burning in 2005 was featured on the weekly Swedish live broadcast TV3’s Most Wanted (Efterlyst) on December 8th.

This gingerbread man was not thought to have been involved in the attack. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

2010 – a failed attempt to steal the goat using a helicopter

Two mysterious men attempted to bribe a guard to leave his post watching over the giant goat in an attempt to kidnap the iconic Christmas symbol using a helicopter.

The two men offered the guard 50,000 kronor ($7,350) to look the other way. According to the guard, referred to only as Mats, the two men wanted to kidnap the goat using a helicopter and take it to Stureplan in central Stockholm.

A helicopter unconnected to the 2010 heist attempt. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

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For members


Why is January 6th a public holiday in Sweden?

Trettondedag jul, literally "the thirteenth day of Christmas" always falls on January 6th, which this year is a Friday. It's a public holiday in Sweden meaning many people have a day off. But why is it celebrated it at all?

Why is January 6th a public holiday in Sweden?

Trettondedagen, or trettondagen, or Epiphany as it is sometimes referred to in English, is the thirteenth day after Christmas Eve, the day when Swedes celebrate Christmas. Unlike most Swedish holidays such as Midsummer’s Eve (midsommarafton), Easter (påskafton) and Christmas Eve (julafton), the trettondag holiday is celebrated on the actual day, rather than the night before on trettondagsafton.

As a Christian holiday, it marks the day the three wise men met baby Jesus and gave him the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and therefore the day God’s son arrived on earth. In Denmark and Norway, the day is still referred to as helligtrekongersdag, or “day of the three holy kings”.

Unlike the Twelfth Night or the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which is considered to be the last official day of Christmas in many Christian countries, the official final day of Christmas in Sweden falls on the twentieth day after Christmas, January 13th or tjugondag Knut. So, you can keep your decorations up for a while yet.

In Småland, trettondagen is sometimes referred to as farängladagen or änglafardagen(literally: “angel travel day”), as it was previously believed that the dead returned home the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, returning to their graves on January 6th.

How is it celebrated in Sweden?

In modern Sweden, most people don’t do anything in particular to celebrate trettondagen, other than perhaps taking down their Christmas decorations (although as mentioned above, many people do this on January 13th instead). It’s a day off for many, and state-run alcohol chain Systembolaget is closed.

In the Swedish Church, trettondagen is a day for raising funds for various charitable campaigns elsewhere in the world, such as this year’s campaign to end child marriage, female genital mutilation and gender-based violence.

The Swedish Church will often hold services on trettondagen or trettondagsafton. If you’re interested, you can find out what services churches in your parish will be holding here. Just type in your address, then look for trettonhelg to see what’s on.

How did Swedes celebrate in the past?

Traditionally in Sweden, the day was marked by boys and young men walking from town to town telling the story of the three wise men. These young men were known as stjärngossar (literally: star boys), a precursor to the stjärngossar you still see at Saint Lucia celebrations in modern Sweden.

This stjärngossetåg (star boy procession) would include the three wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, who represented Europe, Africa and Asia, wearing pointy hats and white shirts, alongside King Herod, who Mary and Joseph were fleeing from (and the reason Jesus was born in a stable), Herod’s servants and a julbock (Christmas goat).

These storytellers would occasionally be given presents or money, and taking part in a stjärngossetåg was often a way for poor boys and men to earn some money, or even be given something alcoholic to drink.

The julbock‘s role was to collect these gifts or money, and it could even have a funnel hanging from its jaw which would lead to a container to collect any snaps gifted to the procession.

This stjärngossetåg still exists in some parts of Sweden, such as on the islands in the Stockholm archipelago.