Once again, Sweden's Christmas Goat proves irresistible to arsonists

The city of Gävle's giant wood-and-straw yuletide ungulate has been torched 38 times in the past 50 years.

Pernilla Wahlman/TT News Agency/AP
Every Christmas season since 1966, the city of Gävle in central Sweden builds a giant version of the straw goat, an ancient Scandinavian Yuletide character that precedes Santa Claus as a bringer of gifts. It seldom survives the season without someone trying to burn it down.

Not even 24 hours elapsed this time before someone set the iconic 43-foot-tall, 3.6-ton straw goat ablaze on Sunday in the center of Gävle, a city on the central coast of Sweden.

The vandalism was to be expected; the goat’s fame is attributed to its inevitable demise nearly every year of its half-century history. But this time it happened so fast, and on its 50th anniversary.

Up it went on Sunday afternoon, festooned in red ribbon, to tower over the city through the holiday season. But by shortly after 11 p.m. the straw goat had burned into a pile of ash, with only its charred, wooden skeleton left standing, according to Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

“We fully understand that this is why he is known. Obviously we understand that this is Gävle's biggest celebrity, it is clear that he is a media icon. At the same time a great many people are sad; we want him to stand as long as possible,” Maria Wallberg, the spokeswoman for the goat, told Sweden’s newspaper Metro.

Police are investigating, but the arsonists have not yet been identified, but it is expected that they waited to set it on fire until one of its guards left his post to use the toilet, while the other stood on the opposite side of the goat. But even new cameras and two guards were not enough to protect the totem, which has been destroyed mostly by arson 38 times since it first appeared in 1966. In 2010, two men reportedly attempted to abduct it using a helicopter, according to The Local in Sweden.

“It is incredibly difficult to protect the goat from anyone who really wants to burn it down,” said Ms. Wallberg in a press release, according to Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan.

Still, tradition has inspired the city every year to erect the buck in Gävle’s central square, Slottstorget, on the first Sunday of Advent. This year, the city spent 2.3 million kronor ($249,900) to build the goat, market it, and throw a launch party. It would take about 1,000 hours to rebuild and re-erect the goat, according to Swedish media reports. Just the materials would cost the city upwards of 100,000 kronor ($10,000).

Gävle residents will vote on social media this week whether to build a new goat or not.

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