The Yule goat (known as a Julbock in Sweden, Julebukk in Norway, or Olkipukki in Finland) in Nordic countries today is best known as a Christmas ornament.
The modern version of the Yule goat figure is a decorative goat made out of straw and bound with red ribbons, a popular Christmas ornament often found under or on the Christmas tree. So it is no wonder why goats are also one of the topics of the 2019 Ingebretsen’s catalog.
Traditionally, people would fashion straw from their final harvest into the Julbock to preserve the energy of fertility for the next year. If you are the craftsy/DIY kind of person you can make your own Yule goat:
The Yule goat immigrated from Scandinavia with settlers who congregated in the northern states during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There, and in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, the Yule goat is as much a part of Christmas tradition as Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, or the church basement lutefisk dinner.
The Yule goat is an ever-present symbol of the winter holidays in Scandinavian countries. A throwback to pre-Christian times, the Yule goat is another pagan Yule symbol that was absorbed into Christian holiday customs. In the Norse pagan religion, the goat was the conveyance of the gods – early images of Odin in a goat-drawn cart are jarringly similar to later depictions of Santa Claus. That is probably why at one time it was believed that St. Nicolas brought presents on a goat.
As Christianity became the norm, the Yule goat remained popular as a trickster figure, a stand-in for the devil who accompanied the elf Tomten, and later, St Nick, on gift-giving missions. It became customary for men of the villages to dress up as the Julbock and play pranks on the unsuspecting. Later on the Julbock brought candy and gifts.
The history of the Yule goat is shared in an article in Storey:
The Yule goat’s origin is lost in the mists of time, though it likely dates back at least one thousand years, when it was associated with the he-goats Tanngrisnir (“Gap-tooth”) and Tanngnjóstr (“Tooth-grinder”), who pulled Thor’s chariot and provided food for the god and his friends (Thor frequently slaughtered and ate Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, knowing they’d be returned to life the following morning).
In Sweden, as part of an ancient midwinter celebration called the Juleoffer (“Yule sacrifice”), a man dressed in goatskins and carrying a goat-head effigy portrayed one of Thor’s goats. He was symbolically killed but returned to life exactly as the sun does at Yule. Early Christian fathers, however, were not pleased with this pagan spectacle and proclaimed the Julbock (“Yule goat”) a demon.
Seventeenth-century Swedish records tell us that the dark and scary demonic Julbock roamed the countryside on the night of December 25, demanding food and frightening devout Christians.
Eventually, the Yule goat became a benevolent being, and people dressed as the Christmas Julbock traveled door to door distributing small gifts to the families they visited.
In time the role of holiday gift giving passed to gnomelike, goat-riding Christmas elves called tomten (Sweden), nissen (Norway), and tonttu (Finland), who delivered gifts to sleeping children like Santa does today.
Yule goats range in size from tiny ones to tie on the Christmas tree to immense versions like Sweden’s Gävle goat erected each Christmas season in Castle Square in Gävle, the oldest city in Sweden’s historic Norrland.
The story about the Gävle Goat started in 1966. A man named Stig Gavlén came up with the idea to design a giant version of the traditional Swedish Christmas straw goat. The objective was to attract customers to the shops and restaurants in the southern part of the city. On the first Sunday of Advent 1966, the huge goat was placed at the Castle Square. Since then, the Gävle Goat has been a Christmas symbol placed in the same spot every year. Today he is world famous. The goat is the world’s largest straw goat and made it to the Guinness Book of Records for the first time in 1985.
Some facts about the Gävle Goat:
- The Gävle Goat is 1,342 feet high, 23 feet long and weighs nearly 8 tons.
- It takes a whole truck full of straw from the local village of Mackmyra to create the goat.
- 5,000 feet of rope is used.
- 12,000 knots are tied.
- 56 – sixteen foot straw mats form the straw coat.
- 4,000 feet of Swedish pine create the wooden skeleton.
- 1000 man-hours of work are needed to build the Gävle Goat.
- The Gävle Goat is inaugurated on the first Sunday of Advent every year, in conjunction with the “skyltsöndagen”.
- The Gävle Goat has friends in more than 120 countries around the world that follow it in social media.
- The Gavle Goat has been hit by a cruising car and been subjected to fire and sabotage over the years.
- Staged hacker attacks and kidnappings have also been planned.
The Gävle goat has its own website with a webcam as well as a Facebook page and Twitter account. You can find it here.
You can watch this year’s inauguration of the Gävie Goat here:
The Yule goat may already be a tradition with your family but if not, and you are looking for a way to begin a new tradition, the Yule goat could be a wonderful part of your Christmas celebration.