The Gävle Goat (known in Swedish as Julbocken i Gävle or Gävlebocken), located at Slottstorget ("Castle Square") in central Gävle, is a giant version of a traditional Swedish Yule Goat figure made of straw. It is erected each year over a period of two days by a local association called the Southern Merchants in time for the start of advent. Another version is erected by a group of students from the Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa. The Natural Science Club's goat holds the world record for the largest Yule Goat, but since 1994 the Southern Merchants' goats have been larger and have had more publicity. The goats have become the subject of a 'tradition' of regularly being torched by vandals.
The history of the Gävle Goat began in 1966. An advertising consultant, Stig Gavlén, 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 a man named 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. However, at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, the goat went up in flames.
The goat has since had a history of being burnt down roughly every other year, 2011 being the 25th time. The financing for the initial goats came from a group of businessmen known as the Southern Merchants (Söders Köpmän), so named because all their members were located on the southern side of Gävleån ("Gävle river"), a river that runs through central Gävle dividing the town into north and south. In 1971, the Southern Merchants became so frustrated with the continual burning of their goats, that for 15 years they stopped building them, and the task was taken up by the Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa. The Natural Science Club's Yule Goat fared no better; besides being burnt and vandalised, one year it was even run over by a car. From 1988 onward, English bookmakers made it possible to bet on the goat's destiny. In 1996 the Southern Merchants introduced webcams to monitor the goat 24 hours a day, with little or no success. On 27 November 2004 the Gävle Goat's homepage was hacked into and one of the two official webcams changed to display "Burn Bockjaevel" (translation: Burn the damn Goat) in the left corner of its live feed. 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. Before they even had a chance to raise their glasses they saw flames shooting from the goat through the restaurant window. 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, which escalated into a frenzy of copycat goat-burning across Sweden. 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. That goat escaped with only minor burn marks on the legs.
The price tag for constructing the goat is around 100,000 Swedish kronor (as of 2005). The cost for the 1966 goat was SEK 10,000. 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). Nowadays, if the goat is burned down before Lucia (feast day of Saint Lucy, 13 December), it will be rebuilt. 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 recent years, the so-called "Goat Committee" have had a plan for a backup goat. Because the fire station is close to the location of the goat, most of the time the fire can be extinguished before the robust wooden skeleton is severely damaged. The skeleton is then treated and repaired, and the goat reconstructed over it, using straw which the Goat Committee has pre-ordered.
Burning the goat is an illegal act and can result in severe fines or even prison time for arson. However, during the 39 years of the Gävle Goat's history up to 2005, only four people have been caught or convicted. The burning of the Gävle Goat is not officially welcomed by the citizens of Gävle, but it has made the goat famous and led to increased tourism. The Department of Tourism in Gävle gets bombarded with e-mails from all over the world questioning whether the city supports the burning of the Gävle Goat. Officially the city says that it does not support the burnings.
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 claimed that it was not going to be possible to set that year's goat on fire because it was fireproofed 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. The Goat Committee's faith in the fireproofing for the 2006 goat led them to cut down on guards, and furthermore they boldly claimed that "the goat will never burn again". Freddy Klassmo, the spokesman for the company that provided the fireproofing in 2006, stated that "not even napalm can set fire to the goat now". The claims were not generally given much credence: even the chief of the Gävle fire brigade expressed his doubts. But the fireproofing did its job and although the Gävle goat was scorched on one leg, it did not catch fire during the one and only attempt to burn it down on 15 December 2006. The goat was disassembled and put into storage. It re-emerged on 29 November 2007, with re-construction finished on 30 November 2007.
Gävle Goat and Natural Science Club's Yule Goat
Since 1986 there have always been two Yule Goats built in Gävle: the Gävle Goat (that of the Southern Merchants) and the initially smaller Yule Goat built by the Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa. The history of the second goat began in 1971 when the Southern Merchants got tired of having their expensive goat vandalised and decided not to build one again. A student organisation, the Natural Science Club (Naturvetenskapliga Föreningen:NF) of the School of Vasa then decided to build their own goat. Their goat was much smaller, around 2 metres (6.6 ft), and not nearly as expensive as the goat normally built by the Southern Merchants, but it was appreciated by the citizens of Gävle, which was the intention of the students from the beginning. Due to the positive reaction their Yule Goat received that year, they built another one the following year and from then on.
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 finally 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 bad feeling 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. To everybody's surprise their goat only measured 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 World Records. As of 2005 that goat still holds the world record since there have been no further attempts to beat it. The Natural Science Club say that they will not attempt a new world record as long as the Southern Merchants do not either.
Nowadays the Natural Science Club's goat is smaller than the record-holding goat, and it is also smaller than the Southern Merchants' Gävle Goat.
- 1966 Stig Gavlén came up with the idea of a giant goat made out of straw. But it turned out that Gavlén organisation did not have enough funding for the goat. Then Harry Ström, who at that time was the chairman of the Södra Kungsgatan Ideella Förening (a non-profit society), decided to pay the whole cost for the goat out of his own pocket. The goat stood until midnight of New Year's Eve, when it went up in flames. The perpetrator, who was from Hofors, Gästrikland, was found and convicted of vandalism. The first goat was insured and Ström got all his money back.
- 1967 Nothing happened.
- 1968 The goat survived. Until this year there was no fence around the goat and it was popular for children to play hide-and-seek inside and around the goat. Also, it is said that one night a couple made love inside the goat. As a result, in subsequent years the inside of the goat has been protected by a chicken-wire net.
- 1969 The goat was burnt down on New Year's Eve.
- 1970 The goat burnt down only six hours after it was assembled. Two very drunk teenagers were connected with the crime. With help from several financial contributors the goat was reassembled, this time out of lake reed.
- 1971 The Southern Merchants got tired of the continual burning of their goats and stopped building them. The Natural Science Club (Naturvetenskapliga Föreningen:NF) from the School of Vasa (Vasaskolan) took over. Their little goat was kicked to pieces.
- 1972 The goat collapsed because of sabotage.
- 1973 N/A
- 1974 Burnt.
- 1975 N/A
- 1976 Hit by a car.
- 1977 N/A
- 1978 Again, the goat was kicked to pieces.
- 1979 The goat was burnt even before it was erected. A new one was built and fireproofed. It was destroyed and broken into pieces.
- 1980 Burnt down on Christmas Eve.
- 1981 Nothing happened.
- 1982 Burnt down on Lucia (13 December).
- 1983 The legs were destroyed.
- 1984 Burnt down on 12 December, the night before Lucia.
- 1985 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. Even though the goat was enclosed by a 2 metres (6.6 ft) high metal fence, guarded by Securitas and even soldiers from the Gävle I 14 Infantry Regiment, it was burnt down in January.
- 1986 The merchants of Gävle decided they were willing to build the goat once again. From this point on there were two goats built, the Southern Merchants' and the School of Vasa's. The big goat burnt down the night before Christmas Eve.
- 1987 A heavily fireproofed goat was built. It got burnt down a week before Christmas.
- 1988 Nothing happened to the goat this year, but gamblers were for the first time able to gamble on the fate of the goat with English bookmakers.
- 1989 Again, the goat burnt down before it was assembled. Financial contributions from the public were raised to rebuild a goat that 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 Nothing happened. This year the goat was guarded by many volunteers.
- 1991 This year the goat was joined by an advertising sled, that turned out to be illegally built. On the morning of Christmas Eve the goat was burnt down. It was later rebuilt to be taken to Stockholm as a part of protest campaign against the closing of the I 14 Infantry Regiment.
- 1992 The goat was burnt down eight days after it was built. The Natural Science Club's goat burnt down the same night. The Southern Merchants' goat was rebuilt, but burned down on 20 December. The perpetrator of the three attacks was caught and sent to jail. This was also the year when the Goat Committee was founded.
- 1993 Once more the goat was featured in the Guinness Book of Records. This time the School of Vasa's goat measured 14.9 metres (49 ft). The goat was guarded by taxi and the Home Guard. Nothing happened.
- 1994 Nothing happened. This year the goat followed the Swedish national hockey team to Italy for the World Championship in hockey.
- 1995 A Norwegian was arrested for attempting to burn down the goat. Burnt down on the morning of Christmas Day. Rebuilt to be standing before the 550th anniversary of Gävle county.
- 1996 Nothing happened. This was the first time that it was guarded by webcams.
- 1997 Damaged by fireworks. The Natural Science Club's goat was attacked too, but survived with minor damages.
- 1998 Burnt down on 11 December, even though there was a major blizzard. Was rebuilt.
- 1999 Burnt down only a couple of hours after it was erected. Rebuilt again before Lucia. The Natural Science Club's goat was burnt down as well.
- 2000 Burnt down a couple of days before New Year's Eve. The Natural Science Club's goat got tossed in the Gävle river.
- 2001 Goat set on fire on 23 December by Lawrence Jones, a 51-year-old visitor from Cleveland, Ohio, who spent 18 days in jail and was subsequently convicted and ordered to pay 100,000 Swedish kronor in damages. The court also confiscated Jones's cigarette lighter with the argument that he clearly was not able to handle it. Jones stated in court that he is no "goat burner", and believed that he was taking part in a completely legal goat-burning tradition. After Jones was released from jail he went straight back to the US without paying his fine. As of 2006 it is still unpaid. The Natural Science Club's goat was also burnt down this year.
- 2002 A 22 year old from Stockholm tried to set the Southern Merchants' goat on fire, but failed. The goat received only minor damage. On Lucia the goat was also guarded by the Swedish radio and TV personality Gert Fylking.
- 2003 Burnt down on 12 December.
- 2004 Burnt 21 December, only three days before Christmas Eve. The fire brigade quickly arrived on scene, but the goat could not be saved. No new goat was built.
- 2005 Burnt by unknown vandals reportedly dressed as Santa and a gingerbread man by shooting a flaming arrow at the goat at 21:00 on 3 December. 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 On the night of 15 December at 03:00, someone tried to set fire to the goat by dousing the right front leg in petrol. The red ribbon on that leg was slightly burned and fell off. The lower part of the right leg was scorched, but the rest of the goat failed to light. The leg was repaired that morning. The Natural Science Club's goat was burned at about 00:40 on 20 December, the vandals were not seen and got away. On the night of 25 December, a drunken man managed to climb up on the goat. Before the police arrived on the scene the man climbed down and disappeared. He did not try to set fire to the goat. 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 The Natural Science Club's goat – was toppled on 13 December. The Natural Science Club's goat was burned on the night of 24 December. The Southern Merchants' goat survived.
- 2008 10,000 people turned out for the inauguration of one of this year's goats. No back-up goat was built to replace the main goat should the worst happen, nor was the goat impregnated 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 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 utilizing a truck 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 attack.
- 2010 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 this year and were dismantled and returned to storage in early January 2011.
- 2011 The inauguration of the goat took place on 27 November. This year, the fire-fighters of Gävle sprayed the goat with water to create a coating of ice in the hope of protecting it from arson. The goat was burnt down in the early morning of 2 December.
- 2012 The inauguration of the goat will take place on 2 December.
|Number of goats built||Number of goats burned||Number of goats vandalised||Number of goats run over||Number of goats stolen||Total destroyed goats||Survival rate|
|Natural Science Club||40||11||7||1||1||20||50%|
- Number of goats built includes goats rebuilt after an initial burning.
- Number of goats burned includes goats burnt down more than once and goats only partially burnt.
- Number of goats vandalised includes goats thrown in the river.
- "Gävlebocken". Gävle City Guide (in Swedish). CityGuide. 2003.
- "Gävle Goat gets hacked" (in Swedish). Aftonbladet. 27 November 2004.
- "The goat is burning!" (in Swedish). Dagens Nyheter. 12 December 2003. Archived from the original on 1 October 2007.
- "The night of the goat-burners" (in Swedish). Göteborgs-Posten. 3 December 2005. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007.
- "Police receives tips about the goat-burnings" (in Swedish). Göteborgs-Posten. 5 December 2005. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007.
- "New goat is already on the way" (in Swedish). Arbetarbladet. 6 December 2005. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
- "TV 3's Most Wanted is now eager to solve the goat mystery" (in Swedish). Arbetarbladet. 7 December 2005.
- Forsberg, Rose-Marie. "The famous christmasgoat of Sweden". Retrieved 6 December 2006.
- "Mer Jul i Gävle". Retrieved 6 December 2006.
- "Not even napalm can set fire to the goat now" (in Swedish). Aftonbladet. 1 December 2006.
- The Associated Press (4 December 2006). "Swedish city strives to safeguard Christmas straw goat from vandals". Santa Fe New Mexican.
- "Julbocken" (in Swedish). Naturvetenskapliga Föreningen. Retrieved 26 August 2006.
- "The Gävle goat timeline" (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 12 June 2008.
- "Santa torched the giant goat!". Sploid. 4 December 2005.
- The Associated Press (4 December 2005). "Vandals Burn Swedish Christmas Goat, Again". Stockholm: The Washington Post.
- BBC News (27 December 2008). "Festive goat up in flames again". BBC News.
- "Weird ritual of the burning goat". BBC News. 4 December 2005.
- "Santa and gingerbread man get Gävle's goat". The Local. 4 December 2005.
- "That's why I burned the goat in Gävle" (in Swedish). Aftonbladet. 17 December 2003.
- "The goat is burning-year after year" (in Swedish). Aftonbladet. 13 December 2003.
- "Christmas straw goat burnt in Sweden". MSNBC. 27 December 2008.
- "The first attack on the goat failed" (in Swedish). Arbetarbladet. 16 December 2006.
- "Gävle goat unscathed after arson attack". The Local. 15 December 2006.
- "Lillbocken lågornas rov" (in Swedish). Gefle Dagblad. 21 December 2006.
- "Lilla bocken brändes ned i natt" (in Swedish). Arbetarbladet. 20 December 2006. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
- "Man climbed the Yule Goat of Gävle" (in Swedish). Aftonbladet. 26 December 2006. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
- "The unburnable goat says thanks" (in Swedish). Arbetarbladet. 3 January 2007.
- "Gävle Goat Blog".
- "Yule Goat of Gävle was inaugurated" (in Swedish). Svenska Dagbladet. 30 December 2008.
- "Attacked last night!".
- "Little brother not well".
- "Swedish Christmas straw goat burnt". BBC News. 23 December 2009.
- "Vandals torch Swedish Yuletide straw goat for 24th time". USA Today. 23 December 2009. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- "Little brother attacked".
- "Helikopterkupp planerades mot Gävlebocken". Arbetarbladet. 17 December 2010.
- "Gävle Goat to be saved by ice". Radio Sweden. 22 November 2011.
- Martin, Rebecca (2 December 2011). "Sweden's Christmas goat succumbs to flames". The Local. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
- Sven Bergvall and Jacob Östberg. "Firebranding Gävle". Burning Bock – the Videography.—a videography of "the Gävleners' relation to Christmas, the bock and its destruction"
- Marie (17 December 2003). "The sacrificial goat?". How I learned to stop worrying and love herring.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gävle goat.|
- Official web site of the Gävle Goat (in Swedish)
- The second erection of the 2005 Gävle Goat Video (in Swedish)
- Julbocken article on Naturvetenskapliga Föreningen site (in Swedish)
- Information about the goat and a webcam (in English)
- Goat's blog and webcams
- Webcamplaza.net Christmas Cams
- BBC webpage on the 2009 goat