Hay: The scandinavian yuletide goat fries again

Everyone has a Christmas tradition or two. Like a 14-pound (45 kilogram) fruitcake for example that arrives in the mail every year about this time from relatives in Newfoundland. And you still have the one from last year. You use it as a door stop in the garage.

Or good old “Uncle Fred” who may or may not actually be a relative, who only shows up at Christmas and has a little too much “Christmas cheer” and swears in front of the kids and passes out during Christmas dinner. With his face in the cranberry sauce.

But people love tradition. Freezing your nose off at the ceremonial lighting of the trees in the city hall park, hurrying by the singing Christmas tree carolers at the mall, racking up massive overdraft on your credit cards. It’s all part of the magic of the season, isn’t it? But sadly, good old Canadian tradition doesn’t include a Scandinavian Yule Goat.

Yes, the Scandinavian Yule Goat is a real thing, and you may be familiar with the story of good old Gavlebocken (that’s the name affectionately given to the goat). Turns out it’s a Yuletide tradition in the Swedish city of Gavle to build a humongous goat out of wood and straw. And I don’t exaggerate when I say this thing is ginormous. This Big Billy (or perhaps Enormous Ewe) is 13 metres (8000 feet) high and is 50 years old. That is to say, every Christmas season since 1966, the city of Gavle in central Sweden builds a new giant version of the straw goat, all decorated with red ribbon and twinkling lights. It’s “an ancient Scandinavian Yuletide character that precedes Santa Claus as a bringer of gifts,” and hundreds if not thousands of people come to a traditional festival to gaze at the immense mammal and celebrate Christmas and, apparently, giant goats.

Thing is, there’s another tradition associated with the big honkin’ Swedish goat. It’s called “arson.” Yep, out of the 50 Gavlebockens built over the last five decades, 35 – count ‘em – 35 have been burned to the ground. It seems some pyromaniacs just can’t resist a five story tall goat made out of straw.

Last year the effigy made it to Dec. 27 before arsonists torched it. One year someone set it on fire by shooting a flaming arrow at it from some distance away. Of course, city officials, police and non-arsonist residents have not been amused by the recurring Gavlebocken bonfires. So this year they assigned extra security guards and even installed closed circuit security cameras – after all it was the 50th Anniversary, not to mention the gigantic goat cost 2.3 million kronor ($250,000).

It lasted less than 24 hours.

According to various news world reports, a “Swedish scrooge” “managed to do the deed when a guard left his post to use the toilet.” Police still have no suspects in this Bah Humbug case of the smoldering Gavlebocken. Perhaps the Swedish Yuletide Goat committee might consider re-reading the Three Little Pigs and maybe going with, say, a cement sheep instead of a straw goat next year.

But good old Gavlebocken seems to still have the Christmas spirit. He (she? it?) went on Twitter and tweeted: “Oh no, such a short time with you my friends (sad face crying emoji). But I shall arise from the ashes and see you again next year!”

Because when it comes to the Christmas spirit, you can’t mess with tradition. Even if it means a giant flaming goat or Christmas dinner with “Uncle Fred.”

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician.

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