2012 års Gävlebock gick upp i brand. Igen.

The town of Gävle in Sweden erects a large straw goat every year. The Yule Goat is a Scandinavian tradition, but the Gävle goat (Gävlebocken in Swedish) is by far the most famous, or perhaps the most notorious, because it has been the center of conflict from its very beginning, and over the years since its first appearance in 1966, it has only gained more notoriety. (For something that is supposed to bring people together, it sure does a good job of dividing them.)

The first conflict is between those who want the goat to last the entire season and those who want it to be lit on fire. (And anecdotal evidence suggests that a large number of Swedes are in the second category.) It is such a big deal that you can place bets on whether the goat will survive or what day it will succumb to flames.

The second conflict is between the Southern Merchants organization, who built the Yule Goat in its initial years but gave up out of frustration over the repeated arson, and the Natural Science Club (Natur­veten­skap­liga För­ening­en) of the School of Vasa, who took up the tradition, even though their goats didn't fare much better. The Southern Merchants resumed constructing a Yule Goat, leading to a bitter rivalry between the two groups.

Wikipedia has a rundown of the goat's fate every year since its inception, including its burning in 2001 by a tourist from the United States who claims that he intended only to burn one piece of straw but was unable to stop the spread of the flames. (The article in Afton­bladet is far more insightful than any of the other reports I've seen, despite the fact that Afton­bladet is a tabloid. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the article is available only in Swedish.)

The Gävle goat blogs and tweets in both Swedish and English.

And for those keeping score: On the evening of December 12, the 2012 Yule Goat of Gävle went up in flames.

Ursprunglig titel: "Den 2012 Gävlebocken gick upp i brand. Igen." Korrigerad efter kommentar från BOFH. Jag var så orolig om jag skulle använda "upp i brand" eller "upp i eld" att jag förbisåg andra fel... Tack.

Comments (15)
  1. I would not be surprised if the Board of Tourism was behind the burning of the goat.

  2. BOFH says:

    Svenska petimeter-hörnan:


    Also, the title should read "2012 års Gävlebock gick upp i brand. Igen."

  3. Lockwood says:


    I wouldn't be surprised if a Swedish bookies were behind the burning of the goat.

  4. henderson101 says:

    @BOFH – I was about to ask what a Gavla book had to do with goats too ;-)

  5. D-Coder says:

    From way back when…

    "If you ask the Internet to show you pictures of goats on fire, the Internet will ask you, 'What kind of goats?'"

    I guess this time it's straw, or Swedish…

  6. Magnus says:

    Mer från svenska petimeter-hörnan:

    I've never heard "gick upp i brand" (or "gick upp i eld", both kind of mean "went up in fire"). There really is no literal translation for "went up in flames". ("Gick upp i rök" ("went up in smoke") exists, but means the same thing as the English expression)

    I'd say "2012 års Gävlebock brann upp" ("burned down"). Perhaps "brändes upp" ("was burned down") would be even better.

  7. Rick C says:

    "I'd say "2012 års Gävlebock brann upp" ("burned down"). Perhaps "brändes upp" ("was burned down") would be even better."

    TIL that in Swedish, upp is down.

  8. Magnus says:

    @Rick, heh. Actually, you can say both "brinna upp" and "brinna ner" (up and down, respectively). Both would mean "burn down", but there's an unclear (to me), subtle difference. I'd say things burn up while buildings burn down, and after something burns down, there's just a pile of ashes (as opposed to, say, the metal skeleton of a giant straw goat) left.

  9. JW says:

    I recall Raymond writing in the past about doing something, and then repeating it and expecting something different to happen. From the point of view of the fake goats surviving, it seems like quite the futile matter. However, when viewing it from the 'how does it get destroyed?' angle, it is actually a quite interesting experiment that deserves repeating!

  10. JJJ says:

    This is hilarious.  While reading through the list, I was thinking how a ranged attack, like a flaming arrow, would do the trick if you really wanted to burn the goat with observers and guards around.  But you'd really have to be obsessed.  And then I read about the burning in 2005…

  11. Steve D says:

    Both 'up' and 'down' work in English also.  'Up' in this sense would be interpreted as 'completely consumed'.  In Australia, beginning at this time of the year, most of the news concerning burning tends to be about forests; not so trivial to most of us, although there always seems to be a few who look at a forest the way that some look at that goat…

  12. Silly says:

    I find the table near the end of the Wikipedia article especially funny: "… – Number of goats burned – Number of goats vandalised – Number of goats run over – Number of goats stolen – …".

    It's just asking for a few new columns.

  13. j b says:

    For all I know, this goat-burning may be a well known tradition in Sweden, but through my 50+ years I have been living all over Norway ("Scandinavia" is Sweden, Denmark and Norway), and I have never heard about it before. While Sweden certainly is one of the Scandinavian countries, you probably should consider this a Swedish tradition rather than an (all) Scandinavian one.

    Actually, while the Scandinavian countries have very closely related "everyday culture", traditions around celebrations of all kinds vary greatly, from Christmas celebration to midsummer celebration, both in activities, dressing traditions and not the least: Which food is associated with various celebrations. At a Swedish Christmas party, or some other yuletime event in Sweden, I might feel just as strange and misplaced as a person from any other country…

    (Don't misunderstand: It can be great fun, and I love some of the Swedish food traditions – they just are not _my_ traditions!)

    [I meant that the Yule Goat is a Scandinavian tradition. Goat-burning appears to be a Gävle-specific tradition. -Raymond]
  14. Andreas Rejbrand says:

    Trevligt att se att du håller dina svenskkunskaper vid liv.

  15. Fredrik says:

    Regarding the title, I think "gick upp i lågor" is most appropriate (and also happens to be a literal translation of "went up in flames". It's not the most common expression, but feels better than "gick upp i brand".

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