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CHRISTMAS

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

2021's Gävle goat has burned down. To mark the occasion, The Local takes a look at some of the most outrageous attempts to destroy the iconic straw yule goat that gets torched almost every year in the east-coast Swedish town.

The five weirdest attacks on Sweden's arson-prone yule goat
The Gävle Goat in happier times. Photo: Camilla Wahlman/TT

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. This year, after surviving for a record-breaking four consecutive years, the goat burned down a week before Christmas.

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 six-decade history, it has survived only 19 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.

1976 – battered by a souped-up Volvo

A student drove a customised 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 down 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 a 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 2021.

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CHRISTMAS

How to make your own Christmas julbord if you live outside Sweden

Planning a Swedish Christmas meal – the scrumptious julbord – outside of Sweden this year? Here are The Local's tips on how you can make your own julbord, and where to source essential ingredients.

a swedish julbord
How can you source your essential julbord ingredients outside of Sweden? Here's our guide. Photo: Henrik Holmberg/TT

Not sure what a julbord is? Here’s our guide.

Plan the menu

The first, and perhaps most obvious step, is to decide what you want to serve at your julbord. There’s no point making ten different kinds of herring if there will only be a few of you eating, and it may not be necessary to source real Swedish prinskorvar if your guests are happy with some cold cuts and Christmas ham.

You can also let your menu be dictated by what you can get hold of, and what you can manage to make yourself – homemade meatballs use relatively simple, easy-to-source ingredients, whereas you might have trouble sourcing sprats or ansjovis for Janssons temptation, depending on where you live.

A handy list of recipes for Swedish julbord staples can be found on John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website here. Simply pick your favourites from each category, and get cooking.

What can you buy ready-made?

Once you’ve planned your julbord and decided what you want to include, split your dishes up into what you can buy where you live and what you need to make yourself. In some countries, you may be lucky enough to have a dedicated Scandinavian food shop with delivery – such as Scandikitchen in the UK or Nordic House in the US – in which case you’ll have a wide range of foods to choose from.

Most sides, like red cabbage, brown cabbage, kale, potatoes and beetroot salad are made from easily-available ingredients which you should be able to source wherever you are, so they shouldn’t be an issue.

An Ikea food market in Norway. But did you realise you could buy your julskinka here? Photo: Heiko Junge/Scanpix/TT

A surprisingly good source for hard-to-find julbord essentials is Ikea, who offer meatballs (both normal and vegetarian), prinskorvar, Christmas ham, herring and salmon in their food markets, as well as julmust, pepparkakor, crispbread and Swedish cheeses. Their choice is limited and many of their items are frozen, so you may need to plan ahead to make sure you can get hold of everything you need in time.

What do you have to make yourself?

If you don’t have an Ikea or a Scandinavian food shop close by, then you’ll have to make some dishes yourself. Here’s what you should keep in mind for your Swedish Christmas essentials.

Christmas ham

A Swedish Christmas ham or julskinka is made from fresh, unsmoked, salt-cured ham. For best results, it should still include the pork skin and fat. Gammon joints are suitable for making julskinka as they are uncooked and unsmoked, but it may be a good idea to ask your butcher for help.

A Christmas ham is usually boiled and then glazed with mustard and breadcrumbs and finished in the oven, but you can also try roasting it – although this is not traditional. Here is The Local’s list of Christmas ham recipes for you to try.

Herring is an essential part of many Swedish holiday celebrations. Photo: Leif R Jansson/TT

Herring

If you want to pickle your own herring, you have two options. Either you can buy ready-salted herring fillets which can be pickled straight away, or you will have to buy fresh herring fillets which you salt yourself – the latter option can take up to two weeks so requires a bit of advance planning.

Ask your local fishmonger if they can source ready-salted herring fillets for pickling, and if they can’t help you, try looking in Polish, Dutch or German grocery shops (or your local supermarket if you’re based in one of these countries) – pickled herring is not only popular in Sweden, so you might get lucky.

Can’t find suitable herring? Consider a vegetarian alternative – recipes exist for pickled courgette, aubergine, tofu and mushroom. They obviously don’t taste exactly the same, but may be a better alternative than avoiding the herring course completely.

Here are a selection of pickled herring recipes from John Duxbury’s Swedish Food website.

Meatballs

Swedish meatballs are relatively easy to make at home, but one important thing to note – especially if you are using a Swedish recipe – is that meatballs are often made from blandfärs in Sweden. This is simply a mixture of beef and pork mince – often a simple 50:50 ratio – so you can just mix the two types of mince yourself if this is not available where you live.

Here’s The Local’s Christmas meatball recipe.

Bread

Depending on the type of bread you want for your Christmas dinner, you may have to bake it yourself. Wort bread (or vörtbröd in Sweden) is made from wort, a by-product of beer-brewing, but you can try substituting a dark beer such as a porter if you can’t get hold of wort.

Fresh yeast – the most common type of yeast in Sweden – is not readily available in all countries, but this can be substituted for dry yeast. Just divide the amount of fresh yeast by three to find out how much dry yeast you should use. For example, a recipe requiring one 50g packet of fresh yeast would need around 17g of dry yeast.

Crispbread may also be hard to get hold of outside of Sweden. Try looking in delis or cheesemongers, or look for similar alternatives such as Ryvita. You can also bake your own – it requires no kneading and no yeast, so is a good project for beginner bread-bakers.

Here’s a recipe for homemade crispbread.

Tinned sprats or ansjovis are essential for a Jansson’s temptation. But what can you do if you can’t get hold of them? Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Jansson’s temptation

Jansson’s temptation, a creamy potato casserole baked in the oven, can be difficult to make if you can’t source Swedish ansjovis, known as sprats in English. Although it may be tempting, you should avoid substituting ansjovis with anchovies – the former are much milder and spiced, whereas the latter will be far too salty.

One option could be to use similar spices to create the same flavour you would gain from the ansjovis. Try simmering the cream used in your Jansson’s for a couple of minutes with a pinch of ground allspice, a pinch of ground cloves, a pinch of ground ginger, a pinch of white pepper and a few bay leaves instead. This also has the benefit of giving you a vegetarian version of the popular casserole, which may be useful if any of your guests don’t eat meat.

Check out this Jansson’s temptation recipe from our archives.

Drinks

The main drinks offered at a julbord are julmust and glögg. Your best bet for sourcing julmust is probably Ikea, where they sell their own brand under the name vintersaga. If you can’t get hold of it, we’ve heard reports of people mixing low-alcohol beer and Coca Cola for a similar taste, although we have no idea if this tastes anything like the original, so try at your own risk… Otherwise, root beer is an option.

If you skip the julmust, it’s worth knowing that wine is not part of a traditional julbord, but beer is comme il faut.

You’ll be pleased to know that glögg is easy to make at home. Here’s a recipe from The Local’s archives.

Are there any julbord essentials we’ve missed? Let us know and we’ll be sure to update our guide if we can help!

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