WtS Advent Calendar Dec 3: Gävlebocken

Welcome to the Watching the Swedes (WtS) Advent Calendar. Every day, I will open a window containing a Swedish word that has something to do with Christmas and the festive season.

Today’s word is ‘Gävlebocken‘ which translates as ‘The Gävle Goat’.

This strange tradition takes place in the Swedish town of Gävle. Every year, a giant handcrafted straw goat is built on the town’s Castle Square. And almost every year, it gets burned to the ground by a pyromaniac. One year, it was even burned down before its inauguration. Consequently, the local authority have increased security and have managed to prevent the burning for the last three years.

The symbol of the goat is a traditional Christmas decoration in Sweden, called a ‘julbock’ – a Christmas goat. Usually made of straw, a goat is placed under the Christmas tree or small goats are hung from the branches. The symbol of the goat has ancestry in Scandinavia far back in Nordic mythology and, up to the 1800’s, it was the goat who brought presents during the festive season. A kind of precursor to Santa Claus.

So although the Christmas goat has endured for centuries, it remains to be seen if the Gävle goat survives until the New Year.

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