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For 50 Years, This Swedish City Has Celebrated Christmas Season With a Giant Straw Goat

And most of the time it meets a fiery end

smithsonian.com

In many Scandinavian countries, one of the traditional symbols of the Christmas season is the Yule Goat. Over the centuries, the Yule Goat has taken on all sorts of roles as a Krampus-like trickster demanding presents to a Santa Claus-like gift giver in its own right. But for the Swedish city of Gävle, the Yule Goat literally towers over every other symbol of the season.

The most common form of the Yule Goat in modern times is a cute little Christmas tree ornament made from bundles of straw held together with bright red ribbon. For most Scandinavian households, it’s as common as the star on top of the tree is in the United States. But for Gävle, the beginning of the Advent season leading up to Christmas means it’s time to start building its 50-foot-tall straw goat, the BBC reports.

According to Gävle’s tourism board, the Gävle Goat was the brainchild of a local man named Stig Gavlén. In 1966, Gavlén had the bright idea to dress up the city’s Slottstorget square for the holidays by building an enormous Yule Goat. The idea caught on, and on December 1 of that year the very first Gävle Goat was raised in the town center. For the next month, the three-ton, 50-foot-tall straw-and-wood structure stood in Slottstorget square.

And on New Year’s Eve someone burned it to the ground.

An act of arson against a perfectly innocent straw goat would understandably be enough to make people think twice about doing it again. However, for Gävle, the giant goat became an annual tradition—matched only by how often someone sets it ablaze. According to the Local, in the 50 years that Gävle has built its goat, it has met a fiery end 35 times.

Considering the expense of building the goat (this year’s cost about $249,900), local officials tend to frown on this part of the tradition. Over the years, officials have tried to deter festive firebugs with fences, security guards and fireproofing, but still most years tend to end with the goat going up in flames, Eric Grundhauser reports for Atlas Obscura. This year was no exception, though the speed that it burned was certainly notable—the Gävle Goat only made it a few hours before someone snuck past security guards and set it aflame.

“There will be a great, great sadness for Gävle residents, the Gävle goat and for all of its fans over the world,” Maria Wallberg, a spokesperson for event’s organizers, told news agency TT, the Local reports.

While many hoped that this year’s goat would stay up at least through the first weekend of December, it was not to be. Still, according to a Twitter account run in the Gävle Goat’s name, this latest blaze will do nothing to keep it from rising from the ashes for the holiday season next year.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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