Chaos Attraction

Burning Goat

2013-12-10, 8:56 a.m.


A few days ago, I discovered the existence of the Gävle Goat, i.e. Burning Goat. I simply must tell you all about it.

According to ye olde Wikipedia, a fellow who lived in the town of Gävle (pronounced "yeah-vleh"), Sweden, got the idea to make a giant traditional Swedish Yule Goat every December and erect it in the town square. The fellow's brother, chief of the fire department, was put in charge of erecting this. On New Year's Eve, someone set it on fire. That fellow was found and convicted of vandalism.

This has led to an over 40 years long tradition of burning or otherwise destroying the goat approximately every other year or so (even years seem to be likely). Sometimes it's burned right after its built, sometimes it even ends up burned before they finish it, sometimes they just get stolen. Let me clarify this one for the American hippies: the town of Gävle does not want to actually burn the goat at any point in time. They would like to not have to remake the goat every year, or sometimes twice a year--they would like to save it for later. Heck, at this point two different organizations are erecting goats--the Southern Merchants quit and the Natural Science Club took up the job, and the first group got back into the game 15 years later.

Every year the Swedes insist on putting up the goat, fire be damned, though they do attempt to make them less flammable. They've tried a variety of different fire proofing products and strategies such as pouring water on the goat so it will freeze, which don't seem to be working well. The Swedes especially don't like the fireproof solution that turns the goat brown, because that makes it less pretty. (I am not at all snarking when I say that--that's the reason, see the interview link below.) But at least around every other year or so, at least one of them seems to end up on fire anyway.

People are paid to guard the goat--firemen, police, hired guard, volunteers, taxis, the Home Guard, an infantry regiment at one point.... but that doesn't always prevent burning. In 1998, the volunteer staff guarding the goat were in a severe blizzard and they reasonably assumed that they could skip out to a cafe for a bit because who would come out in this weather to burn the goat, and how would they even get a fire going? YEAH, IT HAPPENED before they could even drink their drinks. There's a memorable interview with the chairman of the goat committee. He points out that it costs around an American $30,000 to erect the goat, which comes from four sponsoring companies. Whatever money is left over after rebuilding the goat...again.... goes towards paying guards. "But as long as we have had a guard there, he will stand. But when the money for guarding is lost, he will burn down."

There is a fence around the goat, but it's not exactly the world's most badass fence. Again, because the Swedes like things to be pretty, the fence is rather small and easily jumped over. According to the chairman, "we don't want to have a three-meter-high fence with electricity. It must be a good-looking fence." The interviewer pointed out that it sounds like the goat committee doesn't want their traditions changed to foil arsonists, and the chairman pretty much said they'd keep making the goat in the same way and still look for new ways to guard him. Putting webcams on it doesn't prevent burning, but does lead to several helpful flaming goat videos on the Internet. Copycat goat burnings happen all over Sweden as well. As for catching the burners, it very rarely happens. Three more burners have been caught in the last 40 plus years (see below).

Of COURSE people are now taking bets on the goat's survival. As you do.

Only four goat burners have ever been caught at it, which seriously makes me wonder about the Gavle PD.

Memorable moments in 40+ years of goat destruction:

* In 1968, the goat survived, but there was a rumor that a couple managed to have sex in the goat, which led to the builders encasing the structure in chicken wire to keep people out of it.

* In 1970, two drunk teenagers burned down the goat six hours after it was finished. They were caught, but since they didn't have any money, the town didn't get paid back for their destruction.

* In 1976, the goat got run over by a car.

* In 1979, the goat was burned before it was even finished, and the replacement goat was kicked to pieces.

* In 1985, the goat made by the NSC managed to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the first time before it burned down, trumping the previous world record holding goat made by the Southern Merchants. That year it was guarded by a high metal fence, a security company, and the aforementioned infantry regiment soldiers. SO THAT WENT WELL. The two groups that build goats got all pissed at each other--the record winning goat was declared to be not as attractive--so the next year, a "goat war" ensued. The Southern Merchants made a big one trying to get the record back (they failed), and the NSC made a smaller one in protest. For the next seven years both teams gave up on the world record, but the sniping still ensued. One year the NSC put up a sign near their goat wishing a Merry Christmas to everyone EXCEPT the Southern Merchants. In 1993, the Southern Merchants once again tried to get back their title, but were once again trumped by the NSC.

* In 1992, both goats got burned down in the same night. One of them was rebuilt and then burned won again--this time a perpetrator was caught and jailed.

* In 2000, the NSC goat was chucked into the river, while the other goat was burned down.

* In 2001, a 51-year-old American named Lawrence Jones got drunk and got caught burning the goat. He claimed he thought it was a legal local tradition and was okay to do and that he wasn't a goat burner (BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH). In a rare moment of actually catching a burner who was old enough to have money, the Swedes kept him in jail for 18 days and charged him 100,000 Swedish kroners. They also confiscated his lighter, since it was obvious he wasn't able to use it responsibly. Jones fled the country after being released from jail and never paid the money.

Supposedly Jones also claimed that there is a secret society of people who burn the goat, who are members of sports clubs and even members of the fire department. Yes, he's saying that the people who put their money and time into building it are also setting it on fire.

* In 2004, both webcams were hacked and one of them was changed to say the words "Burn Bockjaevel," i.e. "Burn the damn goat" or "Burn, fucking goat" (seen both mentioned online). The goat burned later the next month.

* In 2005, a guy dressed up as Santa and another guy dressed up as a gingerbread man showed up with crossbows and shot a flaming arrow into the goat, burning it down. Not only were these guys not caught, they were featured on Sweden's version of the "Most Wanted" TV program. Supposedly the Swedish authorities have issued a "shoot on sight" order to all law enforcement agents regarding anyone wearing those costumes within a 25 kilometer radius of the town.

* In 2006, the goat was finally fireproofed enough to NOT burn (for the 40th anniversary), but the solution turned the goat brown and people would apparently rather it burn than look turd-y.

* 2009 was a busy year for both goats. One survived an arson attempt and then was kidnapped a week later. As for the second goat, someone tried to throw the goat into the river. Let me reiterate that this thing is described as "house-sized." Later it was torched after a coordinated DDoS attack on the websites hosting the webcam feeds.

* In 2010, two men tried to bribe a guard (with about $7,350 in US money) to look the other way while they tried to kidnap the goat to Stockholm by using a helicopter.

* In 2012, after the goat was torched:
(a) reports came in of four men who changed clothes in a restaurant toilet after the burning, reeking of smoke.
(b) an anonymous confession of the act was posted on a Swedish Internet forum site.
(c) A photo was posted of four dudes' ankles with their new tattoos-- of a cartoon goat on fire WITH THE TIME AND DATE OF IT BEING SET ON FIRE.
Alas, the cops were all, "That technically doesn't tie these guys to the crime scene," and the dudes and their tats remain free. And I hate to say it, but those are really cute tattoos.

The current survival totals on Wikipedia are: 57 goats built, 28 burned, 5 vandalized, 1 hit by a car, 4 have an unknown fate. Total goats destroyed: 34. Survival rate of goats: 36%. SO THERE YOU GO.

Because goddamned everything in the world has to have a Twitter account (and a blog, and Instagram), so does the goat. The goat claims to be "feeling safe this year." Probably because it's an odd numbered year and he's less likely to burn. But we shall see....And yes, the goat will send distress tweets when attacked and tweet a last farewell if he's burned.

I like this fellow's editorial on the subject:
"Why do I love this story? Partly because the struggle between order and chaos is so finely balanced: with half the town fighting to keep the goat standing, and half readying the Molotovs, it really is a toss-up as to whether the goat makes it. And partly because it feels like a wonderful parable for the festive season generally.

Over the next few weeks, each of us will be doing our best to construct the perfect Christmas. As often as not, those hopes and dreams and plans will end up slightly singed, if not completely charred. But just like the Swedes, it never stops us trying to get it right. After all, isn’t the triumph of hope over experience what gives Christmas its magic?"

You know what? I have no idea if I am rooting for the goat to survive, to burn, or to have something else crazy to happen to it. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I FEEL ABOUT THIS. But it's all hilarious to me.

And finally, for your edification and amusement, I have rounded up works of art related to the Gävle goat.

* How the Yule Goat works. There's also an explanation as to how people would make goats and then hide them in their neighbor's houses as a prank.
* Video of the goat under construction, followed by a fireworks show.
* Video on how the streets are filled with little goats.
* There's a song called "The Billy Goat" by The Refreshments. Pretty damn accurate.
* Swedish rap video.
* A poem.
* There is a GAME of this. "In this game, you are the guardian of the giant yule goat Gävle Goat, trying to protect the Gävle Goat from the hooligans that try to burn it down every year. Place barriers to impede their progress and approach them to scare them away in order to ensure that the Gävle Goat survives till Christmas."
* Here's a video re-enactment done by kids.
* This Ravelry group watches the goat every year.
* How to make some paper goats.
* Paper toys.
* Goat cookie.
* Goat earrings on Etsy.
* Felted goat on Etsy.
* Yarn goat--I really wish this pattern wasn't in Estonian!
* Lit up goats in trees.
* Goat sculptures.
* Goat ornaments.
* Goat shirt.
* Long sleeved goat shirt that says "Decorate.

As for me....the reason why I'm posting all of this so obsessively is because....Well, I mentioned that I've been pondering the idea of making an ugly holiday sweater. I have decided to make one honoring the Gävle goat. It will specifically be a tribute to the 2005 Santa and gingerbread man and flaming arrows event, because I can't resist. It will not be done before Christmas. OH NO, IT WILL NOT. There is no way. Even if I wasn't making (a) a hat for someone else, (b) necklaces and leis for Christmas presents, and (c) designing a Gävle goat ornament for Jamie now (see below), this would be a stretch to finish in time because making a sweater in itself takes a damn month. But....I want to start on it anyway when I have free time.

I had been pondering the idea since I saw the latest goat post on Metafilter, and decided to float the idea by Jamie and her mother on Sunday to see if I was completely insane or not. Turns out her mother knows Swedish and used to live in Sweden for awhile and the family is of Swedish origin, so....yeah, I think they're amused by it. Plus I got her mom to clarify how to say Gävle and things like that, and they handed me a Kindle so I could look up crazy links on the Internet and read them aloud....So yeah, this isn't a joke most people will get, but I want to try it anyway. At the very least, it'll be ready for next year...which is an even year and those tend to not look so good for the goat.

I will let you know about my plans for the impending sweater while Holidailies continues....

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