The Gävle Goat (Swedish: Gävlebocken) is a traditional Christmas display erected annually at Slottstorget (Castle Square) in central Gävle, Sweden. It is a giant version of a traditional Swedish Yule Goat figure made of straw. It is erected each year at the beginning of Advent over a period of two days by local community groups, and has become famous for being destroyed in arson attacks during December. Despite security measures and the nearby presence of a fire station, the goat has been burned to the ground most years since its first appearance in 1966. As of December 2017, the goat has been damaged 37 times.
Since 1986 there have been two Yule Goats built in Gävle: the Gävle Goat by the Southern Merchants and the Yule Goat built by the Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa.
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. In 1966, an advertising consultant, Stig Gavlén (1927-2018), came up with the idea of making a giant version of the traditional Swedish Yule Goat and placing it in the square. The design of the first goat was assigned to the then chief of the Gävle fire department, Gavlén's brother Jörgen Gavlén. The construction of the goat was carried out by the fire department, and they erected the goat each year from 1966 to 1970 and from 1986 to 2002. The first goat was financed by Harry Ström. On 1 December 1966, a 13-metre (43 ft) tall, 7-metre (23 ft) long, 3-tonne goat was erected in the square. On New Year's Eve, the goat was burnt down, and the perpetrator was found and convicted of vandalism. The goat was insured, and Ström got all of his money back.
A group of businessmen known as the Southern Merchants (Söders Köpmän) financed the building of the goat in subsequent years. In 1971, the Southern Merchants stopped building the goats. The Natural Science Club (Naturvetenskapliga Föreningen) of the School of Vasa (Vasaskolan) began building the structure. Their goat was around 2 metres (6.6 ft). Due to the positive reaction their Yule Goat received that year, they built another one the following year and from then on. The Southern Merchants began building their own goats again in 1986.
The cost for the 1966 goat was SEK 10,000. The price tag for constructing the goat in 2005 was around 100,000 Swedish kronor. The city pays one-third of the cost while the Southern Merchants pay the remaining sum. Since 2003 the construction of the goat has been undertaken by a group of unemployed people known as ALU workers.
The display has become notable for being a recurring target for vandalism by arson, and has been destroyed many times since the first goat was erected in 1966. Because the fire station is close to the location of the goat, most of the time the fire can be extinguished before the wooden skeleton is severely damaged. If the goat is burned down before December 13th, the feast day of Saint Lucia, the goat is rebuilt. The skeleton is then treated and repaired, and the goat reconstructed over it, using straw which the Goat Committee has pre-ordered. As of 2005,[needs update] four people have been caught or convicted for vandalizing the goat. In 2001, the goat was burned down by a 51-year-old visitor from Cleveland, Ohio in the United States, who spent 18 days in jail and was subsequently convicted and ordered to pay 100,000 Swedish kronor in damages. The court confiscated his cigarette lighter with the argument that he clearly was not able to handle it. He stated in court that he was no "goat burner", and believed that he was taking part in a completely legal goat-burning tradition. After he was released from jail he returned to the US without paying his fine.
In 1996, the Southern Merchants introduced camera surveillance to monitor the goat 24 hours a day. On 27 November 2004 the Gävle Goat's homepage was hacked into and one of the two official webcams changed. One year, while security guards were posted around the goat in order to prevent further vandalism, the temperature dropped far below zero. As the guards ducked into a nearby restaurant to escape the cold, the vandals struck.
During the weekend of 3–4 December 2005 a series of attacks on public Yule Goats across Sweden were carried out; The Gävle Goat was burnt on 3 December. 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.
The Christmas season of 2006 marked the 40th anniversary of the Gävle Goat, and, on Sunday 3 December, the city held a large celebration in honor of the goat. The Goat Committee fireproofed the goat with "Fiber ProTector Fireproof", a fireproofing substance that is used in airplanes. In earlier years when the goat had been fireproofed, the dew had made the liquid drip off the goat. To prevent this from happening in 2006, "Fireproof ProTechtor Solvent Base" was applied to the goat. Despite their efforts, the goat has been destroyed a total of 36 times, including the most recent incident, on 27 November 2016, when an arsonist equipped with petrol burned it down, just hours after its inauguration.
Natural Science Club's Yule Goat
Since 1986 there have been two Yule Goats built in Gävle: the Gävle Goat by the Southern Merchants and the Yule Goat built by the Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa. Until 1985 the Southern Merchants held the world record for the largest Yule Goat, but over the years the Natural Science Club's goat increased in size, and in 1985 their Yule Goat made it into the Guinness Book of Records with an official height of 12.5 metres (41 ft). The creator of the original 1966 goat, Stig Gavlén, thought that the Natural Science Club's goat had unfairly won the title of the largest Yule Goat because the goat was not as attractive as the Southern Merchants' goat and the neck was excessively long. The next year there was a Goat war: the Southern Merchants understood the publicity value, and erected a huge goat, the Natural Science Club erected a smaller one in protest. The Southern Merchants had intended that their huge goat would reclaim the world record, but the measurement of the goat showed it fell short. Over the following seven years there were no further attempts on the world record, but there was some hostility between the Natural Science Club and the Southern Merchants, evidenced by the fact that the Natural Science Club put up a sign near their goat wishing a Merry Christmas to everyone, except the Southern Merchants.
In 1993 the Southern Merchants again announced that they were going to attempt the world record. The goat stood 10.5 metres (34 ft) when completed. The Natural Science Club's Yule Goat that year measured 14.9 metres (49 ft), which earned them another place in the Guinness Book of Records.
|Year||Security additions||Date of destruction||Method of destruction||Notes|
|1969||Inside of goat protected by chicken-wire netting.||December 31||Fire|
|1970||Six hours after construction||Fire||The goat's destruction was blamed on two drunk teenagers. With help from several financial contributors, the goat was reassembled out of lake reed.|
|1971||?||Smashed to pieces||The Southern Merchants became tired of their goats being burned down, and stopped constructing them. The Natural Science Club from the School of Vasa took over and built a miniature goat.|
|1976||?||Hit by a car|
|1978||?||Kicked to pieces|
|1979||After the first goat was burned, a second was fireproofed.||Prior to assembly||Fire / Broken||The second goat of the year was destroyed and broken into pieces.|
|1985||Enclosed by a 2 metres (6.6 ft) high metal fence, guarded by Securitas and soldiers from the Gävle I 14 Infantry Regiment.||January||Fire||The 12.5-metre (41 ft) tall goat of the Natural Science Club was featured in the Guinness Book of Records for the first time.|
|1986||December 23||Fire||The Southern Merchants built their first goat since 1971, and it was burned. From 1986 onwards two goats were built each year, one by the Southern Merchants' and one by the School of Vasa.|
|1988||Survived||Gamblers were for the first time able to gamble on the fate of the goat with English bookmakers.|
|1989||Prior to assembly / January||Fire / Fire||Financial contributions from the public were raised to rebuild a goat, and the second goat was burnt down in January. In March 1990 another goat was built, this time for the shooting of a Swedish motion picture called Black Jack.|
|1990||The goat was guarded by many volunteers.||Survived|
|1991||December 24||Fire||The goat was joined by an advertising sled, that turned out to be illegally built. It was later rebuilt to be taken to Stockholm as a part of a protest campaign against the closing of the I 14 Infantry Regiment.|
|1992||After 8 days, and again on December 20||Fire / Fire||Both the Natural Science Club and Southern Merchants' goats burned down on the same night. The latter was rebuilt, and burned down on 20 December. The perpetrator of the three attacks was caught and sent to jail. The Goat Committee was founded in 1992.|
|1993||Guarded by taxis[clarification needed] and the Swedish Home Guard||Survived||Once more the goat was featured in the Guinness Book of Records, the School of Vasa's goat measured 14.9 metres (49 ft).|
|1994||Survived||The goat followed the Swedish national hockey team to Italy for the World Championship in hockey.|
|1995||December 25||Fire||A Norwegian was arrested for attempting to burn down the goat. It was rebuilt for the 550th anniversary of Gävleborg County.|
|1996||Monitored by webcams.||Survived|
|1997||Survived with damage||Damaged by fireworks. The Natural Science Club's goat was attacked too, but survived with minor damage.|
|1998||December 11||Fire||Burned down during a major blizzard, and was rebuilt.|
|1999||Within hours||Fire||The Southern Merchants' goat was rebuilt again before Lucia. The Natural Science Club's goat was also burnt down.|
|2000||Late December||Fire / water||The Natural Science Club's goat was thrown into the Gävle river.|
|2001||December 23||Fire||A visitor from Cleveland, Ohio in the United States, was arrested for burning the goat. The Natural Science Club's goat was also burnt down.|
|2002||On Lucia, the goat was guarded by Swedish radio and TV personality Gert Fylking.||Survived||A 22-year-old from Stockholm tried to set the Southern Merchants' goat on fire, but failed, the goat receiving only minor damage.|
|2005||December 3||Fire||Burnt by unknown vandals reportedly dressed as Santa and the gingerbread man, by shooting a flaming arrow at the goat. Reconstructed on 5 December. 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 8 December.|
|2006||December 20||Fire||The Southern Merchants' goat survived New Year's Eve and was taken down on 2 January. It is now stored in a secret location.|
|2007||December 24||Fire||The Natural Science Club's goat was toppled on 13 December and was burned on the night of 24 December. The Southern Merchants' goat survived.|
|2008||December 27||Fire||10,000 people turned out for the inauguration of one of the goats. No back-up goat was built to replace the main goat should the worst happen, nor was the goat treated with flame repellent (Anna Östman, spokesperson of the Goat-committee said the repellent made it look ugly in the previous years, like a brown terrier). On 16 December the Natural Science Club's Goat was vandalised and later removed. On 26 December there was an attempt to burn down the Southern Merchants' Goat but passers-by managed to extinguish the fire. The following day the goat finally succumbed to the flames ignited by an unknown assailant at 03:50 CET.|
|2009||December 23||Fire||A person attempted to set the Southern Merchants' goat on fire the night of 7 December. An unsuccessful attempt was made to throw the Natural Science Club's goat into the river the weekend of 11 December. The culprit then tried, again without success, to set the goat on fire. Someone stole the Natural Science Club's goat using a truck on the night of 14 December. On the night of 23 December before 04:00 the South Merchant goat was set on fire and was burned to the frame, even though it had a thick layer of snow on its back. The goat had two online webcams which were put out of service by a DoS attack, instigated by computer hackers just before the burning.|
|2010||Survived||On the night of 2 December, arsonists made an unsuccessful attempt to burn the Natural Science Club's goat. On 17 December, a Swedish news site reported that one of the guards tasked with protecting the Southern Merchants' goat had been offered payment to leave his post so that the goat could be stolen via helicopter and transported to Stockholm. Both goats survived and were dismantled and returned to storage in early January 2011.|
|2011||Sprayed with water to create a coating of ice.||December 2||Fire||Mild weather resulted in the protective ice melting. The Natural Science Club Goat was also burned.|
|2013||Soaked in flame-retardant.||December 21||Fire|
|2014||Survived||At least three arson attempts were made. The Natural Science Club goat was collapsed.|
|2015||December 27||Fire||A 26-year-old man fleeing the scene with a singed face, smelling of gasoline, and holding a lighter in his hand was arrested. Under questioning, he admitted to committing the offence, adding that he was drunk at the time and that in retrospect, it was an "extremely bad idea". The Natural Science Club goat was also burned.|
|2016||November 27||Fire||Destroyed by an arsonist equipped with petrol on its inauguration day, just hours after its 50th "birthday party". Organizers said they would not rebuild the goat this year. It was replaced by a smaller "replica" built by local high school students. This goat was later hit by a car.|
|2017||Double fence, cameras, guards||Survived||The goat was inaugurated on December 3. No reported attempts to burn the goat were made.|
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