Posted 6th December 2013 | By Peter Voss, Account Manager

Surprisingly whilst we have many things in common with the Nordic countries – large parts of the English language have Norse roots and our “interesting” relationship with beer is somewhat similar – one thing that never made it across the North Sea, however, is the Christmas Goat.

This particular Nordic tradition has a long and proud history that goes back to the pre-Christian, Viking era and possibly stems from the Edda Saga -which tells of the god Thor’s sled being pulled through by the sky by two goats called Tanngrisnir (Snarler) and Tanngnjóstr (Teeth-grinder). Sadly Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr come to a sticky end as Thor kills and skins them, and then eats them for supper. However, the following morning, filled with remorse (and presumably roast goat) he touches their skins with his hammer and resurrects them – quite a nifty trick.

By the 11th century the Christmas tradition was established whereby someone dressed as Saint Nicholas was leading somebody else dressed as a goat around towns and villages to show the triumph of good over evil. By the 19th century this had changed into a tradition where one of the men in a family would dress-up as a goat and dole out the presents to the children. Whilst this particular tradition has sadly morphed into a chap in a big red cloak doing the job – the name lives on, at least in Finland, where Santa Claus is called Joulupukki (lit. Christmas Goat) in Finnish.

These days you are more likely to come across the Christmas Goat as a Christmas decoration, where small goats made of straw with a red ribbon halter are common features in Nordic homes and IKEA. The modern tradition that has evolved around these little Julbocken (in Swedish) is for guests at a pre-Christmas party to hide a Julbocken in the host’s house and then tradition dictates that this goat will then be hidden by the recipient, in the house of the next host of a pre-Christmas party. Needless to say there are herds of small straw goats on the move throughout Scandinavia (and parts of Mid-Staffordshire) in December.

Finally on the subject of the Christmas Goat there is the Gävle Goat (Julbocken i Gävle) in Sweden. In the late 1960s, to drum up visitors to the town in the run up to Christmas, the good burghers of Gävle (170km north of Stockholm) decided to build a 7m tall, 3 tonne Julbocken, and the tradition has continued to this day. Sadly another tradition has also sprung up around the Gävle Goat, namely burning it down. Rarely does the goat survive to New Year’s Eve when it is officially torched. Despite webcams monitoring it and security patrols guarding it through the night, it rarely makes it intact beyond 13 December.

God Jul från Gävle!

See the Gävle Goat in real time using this web cam link

Peter

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