Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Yule Goat

The Yule Goat is one of the oldest Scandinavian and Northern European Yule and Christmas symbols and traditions.

The Yule Goat's origins might go as far back as to pre-Christian days, where goats were connected to the Norse god Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, and carried his hammer Mjöllnir. The "Prose Edda", written by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century, relates that when Thor kills and cooks the goats, their flesh provides sustenance for the god and his guests, and after Thor resurrects them with his hammer they are brought back to life the next day.

The function of the Yule Goat has differed throughout the ages. In Finland, the Yule Goat was originally said to be an ugly creature that frightened children, and demanded gifts at Christmas. In Scandinavia, people thought of the Yule Goat as an invisible creature that would appear some time before Christmas to make sure that the Yule preparations were done right. During the 19th century its role shifted towards becoming the giver of Christmas gifts, in Finland as well as the rest of Scandinavia, with one of the men in the family dressing up as the Yule Goat.[2] The goat was replaced by jultomte or julenisse (Father Christmas/Santa Claus) at the end of the century, although he is still called the Yule Goat (Joulupukki) in Finland, and the tradition of the man-sized goat disappeared.

The Yule Goat is nowadays best known as a Christmas ornament often made out of straw or roughly-hewn wood. In older Scandinavian society a popular prank was to place the Yule Goat in a neighbour's house without them noticing; the family successfully pranked had to get rid of it in the same way. 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 the Yule tree or Christmas tree. Large versions of this ornament are frequently erected in towns and cities around Christmas time — these goats tend to be illegally set on fire before Christmas. The Gävle goat was the first of these goats, and remains the most famous.

Art and photos top to bottom: "Julbocken" 1912 by John Bauer; "Julbock" by Connie Lindqvist (1950-2002); Julbock--A Scandinavian Christmas Symbol, photo by Udo Schröter; Gavle Christmas Goat in Sweden, 2006, photo by Stefan.

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