Swedish city strives to safeguard its Christmas straw goat
By MATTIAS KAREN
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - For 40 years it has been torched, vandalized, had its legs cut off and even been run over by a car.
But officials in the Swedish city of Gavle are guaranteeing that this year's giant straw Christmas goat - the victim of Sweden's most violent yule tradition - will survive unscathed.
The 13-metre-high goat - a centuries-old yule symbol that predates Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes - has been burned down 22 times since it was first set up in Gavle's square on Dec. 3, 1966.
But for its 40th anniversary Sunday, officials think they have finally outsmarted resourceful vandals by dousing the battered ram with flame-resistant chemicals normally used on airplanes.
"It is impossible to burn it to the ground this year, although you might be able to singe its hooves," said Anna Ostman, a spokeswoman for the committee in charge of building the goat. "After 40 years, we think we finally found the solution."
The company providing the fireproof treatment is so sure of its resilience that its spokesman Freddy Klassmo told newspaper Aftonbladet that "not even napalm can set fire to the goat now."
For those who want to follow its fate, a 24-hour web cam has been set up to film the straw goat where it stands on the central square in Gavle, 145 kilometres north of Stockholm.
"We can sleep very soundly at night now," she said. "The goat can too."
While the origins of the Christmas goat are unclear, the symbol is believed to date to Norse mythology and the two goats that drew the carriage of Thor, god of thunder.
Many Swedes place a small straw goat underneath their Christmas tree, or hang miniature versions on the branches.
Since 1966, just 10 of Gavle's giant goats have survived beyond Christmas Day. Aside from being burned, several were beaten down and the 1976 goat was hit by a car.
The vandals are seldom caught, but the 2001 culprit - 51-year-old American Lawrence Jones - was convicted and spent 18 days in jail.
The 2005 vandals - who witnesses said were dressed up as Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Man - remain at large. The pair fired flaming arrows at the goat, reducing it to its steel skeleton.
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