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This 40-foot goat has been burned, battered and bruised... will it survive the birds?


All right, Ailsa, I've got a little riddle for you.



DETROW: What animal has thick fur, hoofed feet and a strong association with the Christmas season?

CHANG: Oh, this is easy - reindeer.

DETROW: Oh, you thought so, but it's not. It fits the bill. But if I ask the people of Gavle, Sweden, they would likely say - wait for it - a goat.

CHANG: A goat? Oh, that thing. What Scott is talking about is this one humongous goat. Am I right?


ANNA-KARIN NIEMANN: The Christmas goat in Gavle - or the Gavle goat - is about 13 meters high.

CHANG: What'd I tell you? It's a huge goat. Anna-Karin Niemann works for the municipality of Gavle, Sweden, and she also is the official spokesperson for the Gavle goat.

DETROW: And I guess we should clarify that this is not a real goat. But every year...

CHANG: Thank you, Scott (laughter).

DETROW: ...Just putting it out there, facts - people in the town of Gavle erect a towering hay-based monument to celebrate the Christmas season.

NIEMANN: We have 10 people building the goat, and we have to do it all by hand. So they knot the hay with - I think it's 12,000 knots. So it's a very difficult work, and the builders are really experienced and has done this for many, many years.

CHANG: Oh, that's a lovely tradition.

DETROW: There is another tradition among the more mischievous people of Gavle. They are driven to destroy the goat, sometimes by pretty extreme measures.

NIEMANN: He's been kidnapped. A car has run into him to destroy him. And when he was a little bit smaller, they tried to just knock him down, you know.

CHANG: Niemann says the most common way the goat meets his doom is by getting burned.


CHANG: He's even been shot with flaming arrows. In fact, since the Gavle goat tradition started back in 1966, the goat has survived through to the new year only 20 times. But why? You may ask. Why do people want to kill the goat?

DETROW: That's what I want to know.

NIEMANN: I think it's, like, tension that's been built over the years that - will he make it, or will he not make it?

DETROW: The city is on it. It's taking stronger measures to protect the goat. He now has a round-the-clock security detail with guards and a camera.

CHANG: But even with all of that, a new threat has emerged this year.

NIEMANN: Birds eating the grain that is left in the straw. So this has never happened before, actually.

DETROW: I guess everyone and everything is trying to get this goat. While those peckish birds may have left the goat with some battle scars, Niemann says he is still standing strong.

NIEMANN: Well, he looks a bit uncombed or unkempt, maybe, you can say. To me, he's still really handsome, of course, but he looks a bit like a punk rocker, maybe.

CHANG: Rock on, handsome Gavle goat. Rock on, you punk.

DETROW: We believe in you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Kathryn Fox