The BYU Scandinavian Club participated in the popular Swedish tradition of building and decorating a Yule goat.
PROVO, Utah (Dec. 5, 2016)–Each year in Gävle, Sweden, on the first day of Advent, an enormous goat made of wood and hay is built in the center of the city. The most famous representation of the Scandinavian and Northern European tradition of the Yule goat, the Gävle Goat, is 43 feet tall and 23 feet long. It is constructed by covering a wooden, goat-shaped skeleton with hay bound together by red ribbon. Similar straw-covered Yule goats are built in towns across the country during Christmastime.
The BYU Scandinavian Club has been participating in this Swedish tradition for the past four years. This year, they came armed with a reusable wooden skeleton, a bale of hay, wire, ribbon and, of course, hot chocolate to make BYU’s own Yule goat.
The Yule goat is celebrated across Scandinavia and Northern Europe. According to tradition, the Norse god Thor traveled across the sky in a chariot pulled by two goats. In addition, the Swedes believed the Yule goat was an invisible spirit that would visit Sweden before Christmas day to make sure all the Yule preparations had been completed. It was represented by wooden or straw goat figures that neighbors would hide in each other’s houses, meant to be passed on to another household when found.
The Yule goat also appeared as a figure in Christmas skits and pranks starting in the 17th century, sometimes appearing quite scary and demanding gifts. In the 19th century, the Yule goat preceded Father Christmas as the giver of gifts at Yuletide; many men dressed up as the Yule goat to give gifts to their families. Now, it is most commonly seen as a Christmas ornament, made of straw and bound by red ribbon.
Scandinavian Club members wrapped hay around the wooden skeleton of the goat, securing it – especially the distinctive round horns – with wire before wrapping it in red ribbon. They named their goat Heiðrún after a magic goat in Norse mythology that produces mead instead of milk for the Einherjar, mythological ghost warriors.
It is a tradition in Gävle to try to burn down the Gävle Goat, and it has been destroyed or damaged 36 times, despite being guarded all hours of the day and night. Club members said they weren’t going to burn their goat, but instead hung a sign around its neck identifying it and planned to hide it around campus for club members to find.
–Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’17)
Olivia covers events for the Comparative Arts and Letters Department of the College of Humanities. She is pursuing a degree in French language with a minor in writing and rhetoric.