Officials in Gavle, Sweden Vow to Protect Symbolic Christmas Goat Usually Attacked by Vandals

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 involuntary victim of Sweden's most violent yule tradition — will survive unscathed.

Vandals have burned the 13-meter (43-foot)-high goat 22 times since it was first set up on Dec. 3, 1966 to mark the holiday season.

But for its 40th anniversary Sunday, officials think they have finally outsmarted the resourceful arsonists by dousing this year's 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 paws," 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 still 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, 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Stockholm. The security guards who have watched over previous versions have been called off, Ostman said.

"We can sleep very soundly at night now," she said. "The goat can too."

The goat is a centuries-old Scandinavian yule symbol that preceded Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes. Many Swedes place a small straw goat underneath their Christmas tree, or hang miniature versions on the branches.

Since 1966, just 10 of the straw goats 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.