The Yule Goat was supposed to help deliver presents, so sometimes Santa Claus would ride a goat instead of his sleigh, in fact, small goats made of straw are still one of the most popular Christmas decorations in Sweden. In 1966 an advertising consultant, Stig Gavlén, came up with the idea of making a giant version placing it in the town square. The Chief Engineer on this project just happened to be his brother Jesper Gavlén, also the town’s fire department chief.
At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, the goat went up in flames. Thus the tragic history of Gavle Goat began.
Vandalising of the Yule Goat has become something of a dark tradition for the town. The organisers have tried many ways to try to protect the goat, or at least ensure its survival until Christmas. The list over the years includes protection by police, firemen, hired guards, bands of volunteers, webcams and fireproofing the material with chemicals.
The goat has been burned a total of 23 times, in a few instances mere hours after being assembled, sometimes even before being actually being built. In addition to that, it has been smashed to pieces several times, and once even run over by a car.
In 2005, a group dressed as Santas and Gingerbread Men fired flaming arrows into the goat. In 2009, hackers disabled the security cameras and were able to sneak in and set the goat on fire. An American tourist was arrested for burning down the goat in 2001, but he said he’d been told by his Swedish friends that burning the goat was okay—he ended up spending two weeks in jail. In 2010, a security guard reported that he’d been offered a bribe by 2 men who were going to use a helicopter to fly away with the goat.
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Nowadays people can even place bets on the goat’s survival with certain Swedish and British bookmakers
The price tag of goat construction went up tenfold in the years between 1996 and 2005, reaching 100,000 Swedish kronor (£9,100). The 2005 attack sparked the biggest wave of inanimate-goat violence in Sweden so far, with half a dozen copycat goat-burnings all over Sweden.
A group of businessmen known as the Southern Merchants (Söders Köpmän) financed the building of the goat after that first year. However in, 1971, they stopped building the goats and the Natural Science Club (Naturvetenskapliga Föreningen) of the School of Vasa (Vasaskolan) took over. Due to the positive reaction that their Yule Goat received that year, they built another one the following year and every year since. The Southern Merchants began building their own goats again in 1986. Now there are two goats built every year.