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Beyond the Lone Islands

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Yule Goat

Advent Calendar / 16 December


Hey, what’s this? Dogs?


No, not dogs… Dogs do not have horns…


They’re goats!


So why are there goats at the Christmas Market??
Yule Goats, of course!

Just like the Christmas Pig, the Yule Goat in Scandinavian traditions probably goes as far back as to pre-Christian days. Goats were connected to the Old Norse god Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats.

The Yule Goat nowadays usually only appears as a Christmas ornament made out of straw etc. The most famous Yule Goat in Sweden is found – briefly – each year in the town of Gävle. I say briefly, because it is traditionally always burnt down almost immediately. Not as an official rite, but an unofficial one.

image       DSCN0379

In the 19th century, however, before ‘Father Christmas’ entered into Scandinavian traditions, it was the Yule Goat who came with Christmas gifts. In early Christmas cards, the Goat and the Tomte/ Father Christmas can also be seen together:

 Christmas card by Jenny Nyström

A thought of my own (although perhaps I’m not the first to make the connection) is that in Biblical/ Christian tradition, we also have the Scapegoat

“The rite is described in Leviticus 16. Since this goat, carrying the sins of the people placed on it, is sent away to perish, the word "scapegoat" has come to mean a person, often innocent, who is blamed and punished for the sins, crimes, or sufferings of others, generally as a way of distracting attention from the real causes. In Christian theology, the story of the scapegoat in Leviticus is interpreted as a symbolic prefiguration of the self-sacrifice of Jesus, who takes the sins of humanity on his own head…” (Wikipedia)

It kind of closes the circle of religious symbolism, doesn’t it?
The Scapegoat becoming the Bringer of gifts...


Rose-Anne said...

I am loving your Advent Calendar. I tis so informative and it also brings back so many fond memories of my time in Sweden.

Ginny said...

Well, you've found several unusual goat images here, at least unusual for us here. Of course I knew about the scapegoat, but not the yule goat! gives me the creeps for some reason. Well, goats give me the creeps, they have square pupils, I showed them on a post once, I think I'll go back and re-post it.

DawnTreader said...

Well Ginny you're probably not alone in your creepy feeling about the Yule Goat - the symbolism of the goat has been a bit back and forth through the ages and it has sometimes also been associated with evil. I think the Yule goat at first too was rather scary, a creature to be appeased. But so in a way is the Tomte/Santa... Children are still often told they have to be "good" or otherwise they might not get presents from him.

GB said...

To me the Scapegoat (with its Leviticus connections) is symbolised in the painting by William Holman Hunt, one of the Pre-Raphaelites, whom I admire. I first saw it in an exhibition back in the 1970s at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

I think that bigger goats than those in your pictures would be needed to pull a charriot though.

DawnTreader said...

Graham - yes, that painting is included in the Wikipedia article on the scapegoat which I linked to. I think I remember you having shown it on your blog, although I can't quite remember the context now, if it was your own photo of the painting, or for some other reason.

Mac n' Janet said...

Loved the goat, I think I remember seeing straw ones in Germany too.

Sandra said...

if i had a farm or the land to have it, i have always wanted goats. these in their little coats are adorable. i did not know about the yule goats, lots of info here. i have heard of scapegoat before. like the card, it is really pretty


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