The five weirdest attacks on Sweden’s arson-prone yule goat

The five weirdest attacks on Sweden's arson-prone yule goat
The Gävle Goat in happier times. Photo: Camilla Wahlman/TT
The Local takes a look at some of the most outrageous attempts to destroy an iconic straw yule goat that gets torched almost every year in the town of Gävle, Sweden.

Every year the massive Christmas goat (Gävlebocken) in the Slottstorget square in Gävle, central Sweden, attracts a media storm with locals dreaming up new ways to protect the 13-metre-high creation.

Despite their efforts, including in some years spraying the goat in anti-flammable liquid, the goat usually goes up in flames long before Swedes have opened their Christmas presents.

In 2016 it burned down on its opening day.

In a bizarre coincidence (or is it?) the building of the first goat in 1966 was assigned to the chief of Gävle's fire department, Jörgen Gavlén, whose brother Stig Gavlén, an advertising consultant, had come up with the idea of making a giant version of the traditional Swedish Yule Goat and placing it in the square.

It would not be the city fire department's last dealings with the goat…

READ ALSO: Is Gävle Sweden's most random city?

Over its five-decade history, it has survived only 16 times.

It's fair to say that the drama of the goat's fate is now at least as big a draw as the goat itself, to the extent that Swedish and international bookmakers now offer odds on the goat surviving the season of Advent. You can even watch the goat live here.

Over the years, there have been some extraordinary attempts to destroy the goat.

Here is The Local's list of the five most outrageous Gävle Goat attacks. Watch the video or scroll down to read more.

1976 – battered by a souped-up Volvo

A student drove a customized Volvo Amazon at the rear legs of the goat, precipitating its collapse.

A customized Volvo Amazon (not this one) was used to destroy the goat in 1976. Photo: Niklas Larsson/TT

1998 – burned during a major blizzard

Burning down a straw goat is probably not the hardest thing to do given the right sort of dry conditions. But torching one during a major blizzard? That's what the vandals achieved in December 1998.

The remains of the goat, burned during a huge 1998 blizzard. Note the mounds of snow. Photo: Mikael Johansson/Wikimedia Commons 

2001 – burned down by baffled American tourist

On December 23, a 51-year-old American artist, Lawrence Jones, was apprehended, lighter in hand, as he watched the goat burn. 

He told police he had been misled by Swedish friends, who insisted torching the straw goat was a perfectly legal Swedish tradition.

He spent 18 days in prison and was fined 100,000 kronor which he has not paid.

In 2010, he alleged that there was a secret society, involving all the people and organizations responsible for building the goat, who planned each burning or attack.

The goat in the midst of being constructed. Photo: Pernilla Wahlman/TT

2005 – burned down by arrow-wielding santas and gingerbread men

Vandals reportedly dressed as Santa Claus and gingerbread men shot a flaming arrow at the goat on December 3rd. 

The hunt for the arsonists responsible for the goat-burning in 2005 was featured on the weekly Swedish live broadcast TV3's Most Wanted (Efterlyst) on December 8th.

This gingerbread man was not thought to have been involved in the attack. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

2010 – a failed attempt to steal the goat using a helicopter

Two mysterious men attempted to bribe a guard to leave his post watching over the giant goat in an attempt to kidnap the iconic Christmas symbol using helicopter.

The two men offered the guard 50,000 kronor ($7,350) to look the other way. According to the guard, referred to only as Mats, the two men wanted to kidnap the goat using a helicopter and take it to Stureplan in central Stockholm.

A helicopter unconnected to the 2010 heist attempt. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

First published in 2015 and updated in 2019.

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