Swedish Language Blog

Gävlebocken – The Gävle Christmas Goat Posted by on Dec 24, 2012 in Culture

On December 12th, 2012, around midnight, Gävlebocken burned to the ground. The fire started in the left back leg of the goat and can be seen in the YouTube clip below:


But this isn’t a news report. You can find plenty of those online about the burning of the goat. This is about the goat itself.

Gävlebocken has a long history. It is a straw Christmas goat that gets built every year in the city of Gävle (about 100 miles north of Stockholm). The goat’s inauguration takes place on the first Sunday of advent. There’s a long tradition of Christmas goats in Sweden, which we’ve written about before: Julbocken – Sweden’s Christmas Goat.

The straw goat in Gävle was first built in 1966. In 1969, the first goat burned. Since then, goats have been destroyed by fire, sabotage, a car, even Santa and a Gingerbread man in 2005. The continued destruction led to the original builders – Köpmännen – to halt the building of the goat in 1971. Luckily, Naturvetenskapliga föreningen från Vasaskolan took up the cause and built a new goat every year. Since 1986 though, each group has built a goat. Vasaskolans goat from 1993, a 16 meter high goat that survived the season, is the world record holder according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Destruction of the goat is illegal, burning things usually is, and while the threat of fines and jail time for arson is always there, few people have been convicted. It is a constant struggle to keep the goat from burning. There have been attempts to fireproof it, guard it, and even create a layer of ice over it. On average though, the goat is destroyed every other year (or at least half the time it has been built).

Today, the goat costs about 200,000 SEK to build. This year’s goat was 13 meters tall and weighed 3.6 tons. Plenty of that weight is in straw, which is provided by Mackmyra Swedish Whisky. A small industry has sprung up around the goat. The town has even seen an increase in tourism due to the attention. You can buy souvenirs, follow the goat on Twitter, read the blog written by the goat in both Swedish and English, and even watch the goat on a 24-hour webcam. The webcam is taken down once the goat burns.

Whether the goat burns or not, the building of Gävlebocken is an interesting and enduring tradition. While plenty of people are upset by the burning of the goat, even that has become a part of the tradition.

For a year-by-year history of the goat (and a good way to practice your Swedish), check out Gävlebockens historia.

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About the Author: Marcus Cederström

Marcus Cederström has been writing for the Transparent Swedish Blog since 2009. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Oregon, a Master's Degree in Scandinavian Studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a PhD in Scandinavian Studies and Folklore from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught Swedish for several years and still spells things wrong. So, if you see something, say something.