STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – A giant straw Yule goat in the Swedish town of Gavle was set ablaze on Friday for the first time in five years, reviving a long-running tradition of locals illegally attempting to torch it and authorities scrambling to stop them.
Police said they had arrested a man in his 40s who witnesses said had been acting suspiciously before the blaze in the early hours of Friday.
The Gavle Yule goat, a 42-foot (12.8 metre) high statue made of wood and straw erected every year before Christmas, has become famous nationwide since one was first installed on a town square in 1966 as a marketing ploy. It was burned down on New Year’s Eve that year.
Small Yule goats made of straw are traditionally placed around Swedish homes during the festive season. Their origin has been traced to ancient pagan festivals.
The Gavle Yule goat, which features in the Guinness Book of Records, is famed not for its size but for the often elaborate schemes dreamt up to destroy it.
Authorities over the years have hired guards and deployed around-the-clock video surveillance and vast quantities of flame retardant to protect the statue, but it has been torched or otherwise destroyed at least 35 times.
Two assailants – one dressed as Santa Claus and one as a gingerbread man – set it on fire with bows and burning arrows in 2005. The culprits were never caught.
It has also been run over by cars, set ablaze by fireworks and simply smashed with clubs. The webcam has been hacked and the local tourism administration says there was once a botched plan to kidnap it using a helicopter.
British bookies have even offered betting on the likelihood of it surviving the festive season.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Niklas Pollard and Gareth Jones)