Light­ing the goat in­stead of the tree

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two -

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.

As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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