The Most Optimistic Town in the World
Gavle lies north of 60 degrees on the Swedish coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. I live only a degree of latitude further north, so I can well appreciate how long and dark the nights are there.
Every Christmas season since 1966, the town's Southern Merchant's Association has erected a 43-foot straw-covered goat in a square in the middle of the city. The Yule Goat is a tradition that dates to pre-Christian times, and thought to represent one of the two goats which pulled Thor's chariot across the sky. Smaller Yule Goats are found elsewhere in Sweden, and are traditional Christmas ornaments in many Swedish households. It emblemizes the victory of light over dark. Also, the Christmas season is celebrated while the sign of the goat, Capricorn, reigns supreme in the Zodiac.
Sadly, the Gavle Yule Goat has been burned down by unknown felons a total of 28 times since its inception. A "rival" local Yule Goat has fared only slightly better - having been burned fewer times but suffering numerous acts of vandalism, a catastrophic run in with a car, and outright theft.
Various security measures have been taken over the years, including fireproofing the effigy and focusing web cameras on it, but to no avail. This year, a mere 13 hours before being torched, there was a Denial of Service attack against the webcams' ISP, no doubt all part of the arsonist's plan. Rarely have guilty parties been brought to justice, and no one knows at the time of this post whether it was a student high jink, a protest by PETA, or a fundementalist plot against false idols, or Tiger Wood's estranged wife, Elin Nordegren, who recently has returned to Gavle.
You have to wonder about the good citizens of Gavle: having had most of their Christmas goats destroyed ignobly year after year, why do they keep on building yet another one year after year? Isn't the definition of insanity the repetition of the same behaviour over and over again, but expecting a different outcome?
I, however, believe that the often futile erection of the Gavle Goat represents the best of human nature, that, in the face of overwhelming odds, we still persist in trying to improve the human condition, plan yet anew no matter how often we have failed, and, above all, to have Hope. After all, isn't that what the Christmas story all about?
Once our spirit becomes broken, life becomes very hardscrabbled, and it takes a lot to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and try yet again.
So God bless you, residents of Gavle, for showing real determination and Hope. And don't let them get your goat next year!!!
And for you readers, God bless you too. Merry Christmas!
The 2009 Gavle Yule Goat Before
Footnote: the Gavle Goat had its own blog. The post regarding the fire on December 23 is kind of poignant in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way.