It’s a classic Christmas tale of good triumphing over evil. Every year since 1966, the giant straw Yule goat of Gävle has faced arsonists and vandals intent on its destruction.
In 27 of those years it has succumbed — mostly to fire, once to a Volvo driven at full tilt, knocking the 42-foot straw statue clean over.
But not this year. For the first time since 2006, the Swedish city’s goat has survived to the end of its festive run. This morning the sculpture was dismantled ahead of New Year celebrations considered too riotous to give the animal a sporting chance of survival. “It’s almost suicidal for the goat to be up and running on New Year’s Eve,” said the goat’s spokesperson, Johan Adolfsson.
It was New Year’s Eve 1966 when the first ever Gävle goat got a taste of its future; burnt to the ground at the hands of a vandal from a nearby municipality. The straw statue was the brainwave of Stig Gavlen, a local advertising consultant who thought a giant version of the traditional Swedish yule time goat would be a good way to draw crowds to Gävle , a small port city on the Scandinavian country’s east coast.
Since then, attempts on the goat’s life have become as much of a Christmas tradition in Gävle as carols and mince pies are elsewhere. Where you stand on the goat’s fate, says Adolfsson, is a testament of character.
“It’s a classic drama between the good citizens who love the goat and the bad guys, the arsonists, who want to get it torched,” he says.
Every year the goat is erected in the city centre on the first day of Advent – apart from in 1979 and 1989, when it was torched before it could even be erected.
The culprits are rarely caught, although in 2001 a 51-year-old American man, 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 statue was a perfectly legal Swedish tradition. In 2005 arsonists got creative, dressing up as gingerbread men and Santa, before firing flaming arrows into the statue.
Extensive security measures have been put in place over the years to protect the goat, including security guards, a fence and a flame-retardant spray.
In 2010 a security guard claimed he had been offered 50,000 kronor to turn a blind eye to an attempt to kidnap the entire statue using a helicopter. “If the goat were to burn on my shift, I’d never be able to show my face in town again,” the guard told a local newspaper at the time.
This year, the organisers changed tactics. Instead of keeping people away from the goat, they have organised extra viewings and put a taxi rank nearby, in the hopes that would mean fewer opportunities for potential arsonists to sneak an attack. And while three youths were apprehended sneaking over the fence, Gavlebocken has made it through Christmas untouched.
It’s a particularly triumphant ending, as this year the goat is due to be shipped off to China, a gift as the Chinese year of the goat begins in February, where he will stand as an ambassador of Gavle
Adolfsson acknowledges that the tension over the goat’s survival is part of the draw. “Today we’re quite happy because the goat has managed to stay alive,” says Adolfsson. “But, of course, sometimes it needs to get burned to keep the drama alive.”
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