Lighting the goat instead of the tree
STOCKHOLM (AP) — For 40 yearsithasbeentorched,vandalized, haditslegscutoffandevenbeenrun over by a car.
But officials in the Swedish city ofGavle are guaranteeing that this year’s giant straw Christmas goat — the victim of Sweden’s most violent yule tradition — will survive unscathed.
The 43-foot-high goat — a centuries-oldyulesymbolthatpreceded Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes — has been burned down 22 times since it was first set up in Gavle’s square on Dec. 3, 1966.
But this year officials think they have finally outsmarted the resourceful vandals by dousing the goat with flame-resistant chemicals normally used on airplanes.
“It is impossible to burn it to the ground this year, although you might be able to singe its paws,” said Anna Ostman, a spokeswoman for the committee in charge of building the goat. “After 40 years, we think we finally found the solution.”
The company providing the fireproof treatment is so sure of its resilience that its spokesman, Freddy Klassmo, told the newspaper Aftonbladetthat“notevennapalmcanset fire to the goat now.”
For those who want to follow its fate, a 24-hour webcam has been set up to transmit images of the straw goat where it stands on the central square in Gavle, 90 miles north of Stockholm (www.merjuligavle.se). However, the security guards that havewatchedoverpreviousversions have been called off, Mrs. Ostman said.
“We can sleep very soundly at night now,” she said. “The goat can, too.”
WhiletheoriginsoftheChristmas goat are not clear, the symbol is thoughttodatebacktoNorsemythology and the two goats that drew the carriage of Thor, the god of thunder.
ManySwedesplaceasmallstraw goat underneath their Christmas trees, or hang miniature versions on the branches.
Since1966,just10ofGavle’sgiant goats have survived beyond Christmas Day. Aside from being burned, several were beaten down and the 1976 goat was hit by a car.
The vandals are seldom caught, but the 2001 culprit — 51-year-old American Lawrence Jones — was convicted and spent 18 days in jail.
The 2005 vandals — who witnessessaidweredressedupasSanta Claus and the Gingerbread Man — remain at large. The pair fired flaming arrows at the goat, reducing it to its steel skeleton.
Officials in Gavle, Sweden, are banking on flame-resistant chemicals and 24-hour webcam surveillance to protect the city’s 43-foot-high straw Christmas goat after nearly 40 years of vandalism.