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julbock

Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat

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If you’ve ever spent the holidays in Sweden then you’d recognize this common Christmas decoration – the julbock. Usually made out of straw and sitting on a table, but sometimes as a candle holder, an ornament in the tree, depicted on Christmas cards or table clothes — goats are largely associated with Christmas here in Sweden.

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There is even a famously gigantic Julbock made of straw that has been built in a town called Gavle every year since 1966, which measures 13 meters tall (43 feet) and is  burnt down year after year. Although this is not the intention of the Julbock nor is it legal, it is an expected fate.

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There is a long history behind the Julbock which goes much deeper than the decorations we see today.

The origin of the Julbock dates back to before Christianity in Scandinavia, from the worship of the Norse God Thor and his two goats, Tanngnjost och Tanngrisner, that pulled his flying chariot.

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Later, the Julbock was depicted as a humanoid goat figure with horns and hooves, said to represent the devil, ensuring that people deserved their presents. This version of the julbock was altered into a scary prankster who caused trouble and demanded gifts.

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Julbocks being made of straw is nothing new, as it was always associated with the last harvest of the grain. It was once believed that the Julbock was only a spirit, and anything made of straw could be the Julbock. This spirit would check that the house was clean and the preparations were done correctly for the celebrations.

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For a long while the Julbock was the one who would deliver and hand out the Christmas presents – an original Scandinavian Santa. This is the most widely accepted and known version of the Julbock.

julbock

Just as someone in Swedish families dress up as Santa to give out the gifts to the children nowadays, the same was done back then. Dressing up as the Julbock for Christmas also included singing, acting, and pranks while wearing something like this:

mask

During the 1800’s, people would throw the straw made Julbock back and forth, yelling “Take the Christmas goat!” The straw goat was also passed between neighbors, hiding it in each others houses without it being noticed, in an effort to get the Julbock out of their own house.

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Hoping all of my readers had a wonderful Christmas and that I taught you a bit of Swedish Christmas trivia. If you’re interested in reading more about Swedish Christmas traditions – follow these links:

Julbord: Christmas table (Christmas food)
The first advent
Swedish Santa: Tomte

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7 thoughts on “Julbock: The Swedish Christmas Goat

  1. The Julbock-that will stay with me now! Thank you.

  2. Just to make it clear, the straw goat in Gävle is not meant to be burned and it is illegal to burn it. It usually burns down still though. Not sure if anyone has been found guilty of it though.

  3. Ooh, don’t say that the large julbock in Gävle is “traditionally burnt down year after year”. Burning it down is really quite illegal and can even give you a prison-sentence.

    I say this because we had a poor American over a few years ago who thought it was a Swedish tradition. Was quite confused when the police caught him :)

    That being said, merry christmas!

    • I’ve added an extra sentence to explain – although I certainly didn’t intend it to sound like it was traditional in that sense, only that it does, in fact, happen every year. Thanks for the heads up!

  4. That photo of the costume is pretttttty creepy!!!

  5. The Julbok is my favourite part of Swedish Xmas, it always knows just what present to bring a gal…

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