Gävlebocken: A Fiery Swedish Tradition


Gävlebocken has become a well-known and widely discussed phenomenon, but not for the reason you might think. It is not because of its size, or because of how it represents the beginning of the countdown to Christmas. No, Gävlebocken is in fact primarily associated with vandalism.

Gävlebocken has an interesting, and violent, history. It all began in 1966 when advertising consultant Stig Galvén came up with the idea of placing a 43 ft tall version of the traditional Swedish yule goat on Slottstorget in the city of Gävle to mark the first Sunday of Advent.

On New Year’s Eve in 1966, the first Gävlebock was set on fire and burned down. Throughout its 50 years long history, it has burned down, been crashed into, or in other ways destroyed more than 35 times. The uncertainty of the fate of the Gävlebock brings it significant attention every year and has led to its annual inauguration becoming a well-attended event. This year, in addition to the thousands of spectators that are expected to attend, the inauguration will be celebrated with appearances and performances by several famous Swedish comedians, musicians, and other celebrities.

Given Gävlebockens history of destruction, its display warrants a high degree of security. According to Maria Wallberg, representative of Gävle municipality, the goat is protected by fences, guards, and security cameras 24 hours a day every day in order to deter potential vandals. ”Because of security reasons, we don’t want to go into details,” Wallberg said to Aftonbladet.

Wallberg says that the giant straw goat plays an important role in the city’s tourism around the holiday season. Hotels and restaurants in Gävle rely on Gävlebocken to bring them a stream of customers, as people travel from all over Sweden to see the famed goat in person. Therefore, local businesses would much prefer it to remain standing.

Brand expert Eva Ossiansson agrees that Gävlebocken is important to strengthen the city’s brand and increase its recognizability. When people think of Gävle, Gävlebocken is one of the first things that comes to mind for many, especially in wintertime. ”It garners a lot of attention and becomes a yearly phenomenon to talk about; when will it burn down, how will it burn, and will it make it,” Ossiansson explained to Aftonbladet.

When asked whether she thinks other cities would like to have something similar to set them apart from other Swedish cities, Eva Ossiansson says that attempts have been made before. She mentions Borås’ Pinocchio as an example, but she also mentions that none of these attempts have been equally successful as they do not garner the amount of publicity that Gävlebocken does due to being under a constant threat of destruction.

This article was first published on December 4, 2018.

Photographer: Albin Bogren



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