Every Christmas since 1966, a straw goat with arcing horns and red trim has stood proudly in the central square of a small Swedish town called Gävle. And for 24 of those years, the poor goat has been set on fire as part of an unofficial holiday tradition that the town fights valiantly—and mostly unsuccessfully—to shut down.
The routine begins on the first Sunday of Advent each year, when thousands gather in the town’s Castle Square to watch the Gävlebocken, or Gävle Goat, rise up in all its 43-foot and 8,000-lb glory.
This traces back to December 1, 1967, when a local advertising consultant cooked up the idea of erecting a “Yule Goat” to promote holiday cheer. Exactly one month after the first straw goat was erected in Gävle, it was mysteriously burned to a crisp. Since then, nearly half the town’s Christmas-time goats have met a similarly brutal demise, be it by arson, battery, hit and run, or host of other offenses.