Saturday, December 24, 2022

The G.O.A.T

Whether you've seen it in travel guides or on social media*, there's no denying that the Gävlebocken, or Gävle Goat, is pretty impressive. 
So, what's the purpose of this giant straw goat, and why are people so desperate to set it on fire?

Photo by Wordshore, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Simply put, the Gävlebocken is a giant Swedish Yule Goat. You might be familiar with these straw goats, as they've now started popping up alongside the usual Christmas decorations for sale, only a lot smaller than the big guy.**
While its origins are unclear and often speculated on, it's most likely that the Gävlebocken has links to the Vikings, with many believing it to be a representation of Tanngnjostr and Tanngrisnir. These goats pull Thor's chariot.

Standing at 13 meters in height, this festive straw beast has been an official yearly tradition in the town of Gävel since 1966 and was intended to bring more tourists and trade to the area. There's no denying that it's been a success. If you want to visit, you can find the Goat in Castle Square, erected four weeks before Christmas.
The unofficial tradition of burning the Gävlebocken to the ground has been around for as long as it has, with the first incident taking place in 1966. The Goat isn't meant to be burnt; it's meant to be stored and reused. Setting the Goat on fire, or vandalising it in any way, is classed as a crime which will result in jail time and/or a heavy fine. The torching of the Gävlebocken has been linked to drunken dares, misunderstandings, general vandalism and some people mistakenly believing that burning it will bring luck in the coming new year. Sadly, while many arsonists are caught and charged, more have gotten away with it. If the damage isn't too bad then the Goat can be repaired, though in some cases replacements have had to be made. I'd say that, on the bright side, some years the Goat hasn't been burnt down, but in the chaotic timeline of the Gävlebocken, that still doesn't mean it survived.

The Gävlebocken Timeline: from past to present.

1966 The Gävlebocken is erected for the first time and also burnt for the first time

1967 Survives.

1968 Survives.

1969 Burnt.

1970 The Goat survives six hours before being burnt down.

1971 The Goat is smashed up, and the culprits were never caught.

1972 The Goat collapses due to sabotage.

1973 The Goat is stolen. However, it's a bit difficult to hide a giant straw goat, and it was eventually found.

1974 Burnt.

1975 Presumably, due to some flaw in its construction, the Goat collapses under its own weight.

1976 Someone rams their car into the Goat, causing it to collapse.

1977 Burnt.

1978 The Goat is kicked to bits. Sad, but still an impressive feat of strength. That's a sturdy-looking goat!

1979 Burnt before construction was even finished.

1980 Burnt.

1981 Survives.

1982 Burnt.

1983 Attempts were made to burn the Goat, but luckily only the legs were damaged.

1984 Burnt.

1985 Thanks to tightened security, this Goat had a group of armed soldiers guarding it. That didn't stop it from being burnt down.

1986 Burnt.

1987 Attempts were made to fireproof the Goat. It didn't work.

1988 Survives.

1989 The first Goat doesn't even reach completion before being found and burnt. A replacement is made but doesn't fare any better than the first.

1990 Survives.

1991 Burnt.

1992 Only survives 8 days before being burnt, so a replacement goat is built. And burnt.

1993 Survives.

1994 Survives.

1995 Burnt.

1996 Survives.

1997 Fireworks are fired at the Goat, but it survives with minimal damage.

1998 It survived a terrible blizzard, but determined arsonists still managed to burn it down.

1999 The Goat survives a record two hours before being burnt.

2000 Burnt.

2001 The Goat is set alight by an unfortunate American tourist, who thought they were participating in a Swedish tradition, not realising it was illegal.

2002 Survives.

2003 Burnt.

2004 Burnt.

2005 Two people dressed as Santa and a gingerbread man fired burning arrows at the Goat.

2006 Survives.

2007 Survives.

2008 Burnt.

2009 There are multiple attempts made to burn the Goat. The last one is a success thanks to hackers taking out the webcams being used to watch the Goat, giving the culprits time to get in there and set it alight.

2010 An attempt to steal the Goat via helicopter was prevented when the culprits were caught trying to bribe the security crew to turn a blind eye.

2011 The people building the Goat attempt to fireproof it by soaking it with water. This failed, and the Goat burnt.

2012 Burnt.

2013 Burnt.

2014 Survives.

2015 Burnt.

2016 The Goat is burnt. And then, to add insult to injury, it gets hit by a car. Again.

2017 Survives.

2018 Survives.

2019 Survives.

2020 Survives.

2021 Burnt.

2022 ???

These days the Gävle Goat is well guarded, with a fence, security cameras and a dedicated security team. Still, this hasn't deterred the would-be arsonists, and neither has the prospect of jail time or a hefty fine if caught.  

At the time of writing this post, the Gävlebocken was still standing and unburnt.

*It even has its own Twitter page!
**Mine came from IKEA. He was not, thankfully, flat-packed.