This was the reason I was in Gävle, to see the inaguration of the Gävle Goat, I was pumped!
Okay exaggeration, I was just really excited about the goat. Not in the David Cameron way 😉 but in this whole fascinating tradition. Putting Christmas Goats around a large square as a decoration was a tradition started here in Gävle.
And I was not alone, a whole raft of people were at the public square in Gävle to attend the inauguration of the Gävle Goat.
In case you think this was just a local tradition, think again, the Gävle Goat celebration has fans all around the world.
Goats are huge in Gävle, it was outside shops (the name of the goat is Hans by the way) and on the christmas markets.
The tradition became more than a region one when the Yule Goat started getting burned down (35 times in the last 50 years) creating a cat and mouse tradition that adds to the festivity of the occasion. It has become such a tradition that an American tourist was convinced in 2001 by his friends that it was a legal tradition.
Don’t get me wrong, the locals who put up the goat really don’t want it to go down in flames, this is actually arson and is an illegal act. This is not something that people in the city laugh at (even if I find it a facinating story), this is something that the perpatrator will get fined and put in jail for – this is clearly illegal illegal, not a Guy Fawkes night. event.
But since when was there a goat in the nativity scene though? Nativity scenes sometimes have an optional sheep (Jesus as the spotless innocent lamb) for the symbolism, but never a goat. So how did we get to a goat with horns?
There are no goats in the nativity scene because there never were any. These goats are called Yule Goats and they are a Scandanavian and Northern European tradition with Germanic pagan origins. A popular theory goes that the Yule Goat tradition was a celebration of the god Thor who was driven by two goats.
The Goat then got christianised, as with the date of Christmas that we celebrate all around the world (what used to be the birthday of the sun-god became the birth day of the son-of-god), and in Scandanavia the Yule Goat is seen to have special powers in ensuring that the Christmas preparations are done right. The Yule Goat became seen also as a bearer of Christmas Gifts, with men dressing up as goats to bring the gifts – linked, unsurprisingly to the story of St Nicholas (Santa Claus).
The Julbocken or Christmas Goat was, and still is, really important in Scandanavia before Santa Claus and Rudolf appeared in this part of the world. I would say, based on the many Christmas markets around, Santa and Rudolf they haven’t yet taken root – except the occasional song.
Still, there are Christmas songs to the Yule Goat,
and as the goat would say, have a Braaaaaaa Braaaaaaa Christmas!
ON THE MAP