Holy Tides – The Animals of Yule

The Yule Goat, Yule Boar and Yule Cat

Today, one of Sweden’s most traditional Yule symbols, is that of the yule buck or yule goat, which features prominently in the tale of Jultomten. In antiquity the common animal sacrifices included horses, cattle, boar, and goats. In Sweden in particular we see goats sacrificed. Once Christianity had taken over, many laws were passed that forbade the sacrificing of animals for ‘pagan rituals’. From this void, we see the real animal, begin to be replaced by a person in a goat costume that becomes a symbolic ritual offering and slaying. The use of costumes or masks for ritual, is not alone, as we also see it in another yuletide festival as previously mentioned with the Goddess Perchta.

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The yule goat is presented as a straw made goat. I suspect like the human wearing a goat get up, the yule goat becomes a nod to the pagan ritual sacrifice of a goat at blot once laws were established preventing the sacrifice to occur. I also suspect, that as we see in some areas, a folk tradition persisting of some of the grain crop being left in the harvest as Sleipnir’s lot. I could see that also being used to feed the yule goats, or conversely eventually to be used to make the straw yule-goats themselves.

We see something similar with the tradition of the Yule Boar. The last ear of corn reaped in the preceding harvest, would be used to make a corn-meal loaf baked into a boar shape. In some areas the Yule Boar was kept out only during the yuletide, in others it was kept into the next year when it was mixed with the new crop of corn and then consumed. The older traditions didn’t have a symbolic boar of corn, but included boar animal sacrifices, or humans symbolically representing the boar sacrificed.

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Of course, over the years we see the Yule Goat in some areas become the Santa-like figure all on it’s own, or a figure connected to Santa like the Krampus. We also see other non-human figures connected with reward and punishment, such as the Yule Cat. The Yule Cat would watch to see what children got new clothes, for it was said that a child that got new clothes had in fact behave and done their chores. But a child that didn’t get new clothes, had been naughty and therefore became offerings the Yule Cat could take. The Yule-Cat appears to be a late-evolving tradition, with a first written appearance in the 19th Century. But it derives its roots from the same industriousness/behavior motif we see with the deities that tie to the Santa mythos. In part, it may have been written to help generate a call for those of wealth to be generous and give clothes to the needy, so no children would be taken. On a more morbid interpretation of the story, the poor who had no warm clothes would probably not survive the winter.

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Famous Swedish export Ikea, regularly sells Yule Goats this time of year. They’re a common ornament for the yule-tree, or other decorations (the way some may have a sculpture of a reindeer on their mantle or table). In some areas there is a folk custom of trying to sneak the goat in under someone else’s yule-tree without being caught as an innocent prank, and then the new household possessing the yule goat must find some way to sneak it onto another unsuspecting household.

One of the most famous Yule-Goats today is the Gavle Goat. The Gavle Goat is a giant Yule-Goat that towers over people, erected in an open area nearby the town of Gavle’s shopping center. It’s rather famous since not only is it HUGE, but around half of the goats that have been erected (now there are two in different places in the town) have been destroyed. Its something of a fun past time for people to watch the live camera feeds of the town, to see if the Goat is there, and to see if they can catch one of its many vandals in the act. Over half of the 70+ goats were burned, but some have been run over, KID-napped (get it?), or otherwise vandalized (like being thrown in the river).

You can check in on how the Gavle Goat us fairing this year on the official webcam. but you can view the web-cam for yourself.

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