Thinking about animals associated with this time of year, and there’s a few contenders that might pop into your head. Reindeer most likely, red noses or not; a donkey, the stable (hohoho!) of a school nativity play, not to mention the camels of the Wise Men; sometimes even penguins and polar bears appear in festive displays. And who can resist this compilation of cute creatures wearing Santa hats from the Top 10 of Everything?
But did you know about the Yule Goat? Or to give it its Swedish name, Julbocken. The Yule Goat is an old Scandinavian tradition, which may even have links back to pre-Christian Norse mythology. Home-made “goats” of wheat sheaves and rough-hewn wood were secretly hidden in neighbour’s houses; and on finding one in your home, the trick was to pass it on to another family in the same manner. Over time, the goat became associated with bringing gifts, although in more recent times Santa Claus (Jultomte in Sweden or Julnisse in Denmark and Norway) has taken over that role.
In modern times, Julbocken are made from straw, bound with red ribbons, and usually found as a small decoration in homes or hanging on a Christmas tree. But these guys have some big brother standing in market squares and plazas across Sweden. The most famous of these giant Yule Goats is the 3-tonne, 13 metre high Gävle Goat, which has been constructed in the town every winter since 1966. The goat is built over a couple of days just prior to the start of advent, and stands sentry in Castle Square for the festive period.
Or at least, that’s the theory. Throughout its history, the Gävle Goat has been a magnet for vandalism and burning; one year it was even run over by a car! In the 37 years goats have been built, 28 have been burnt to the ground. A British bookmaker even made it possible to bet on whether or not the goat makes it to the end of the festive period. Keep an eye on it over Christmas with the Gävlebocken webcam.
The Goat has also embraced social media in recent years, and you can follow him on twitter or keep up to date with his blog (I love that the Swedish word is blogg, the extra “g” makes it look cuter!). After reading all his latest posts I’ve grown quite attached to him, and would be rather sad if he didn’t make it through Christmas and the New Year. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for him.