Yule Goat

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Yule Goat

Joulupukki, Julbock, Julbukk, Klapparbock

In Norway and Sweden the goat, rather than the reindeer, symbolizes Christmas and brings Christmas gifts. In Sweden straw goats constitute a staple Christmas decoration (see also Yule Straw), while in Norway the animal lends its name to a Christmas Day caroling custom.

Origins and History

Some authors contend that the Yule goat originated in pre-Christian Yule celebrations. They believe that the ancient Scandinavians dedicated their Yule festival to the god Thor, whose companion animal was the goat. According to legend, this Norse god rode in a chariot pulled by two billy goats. Others view the Yule goat as a medieval invention. They argue that the goat typically accompanied the Devil in medieval folk plays performed around Christmas time.

In medieval times the Yule goat frolicked at the center of Scandinavian Christmas festivities. Using a goat skin and head as a costume, two men would masquerade as a goat, sometimes with a third sitting astride them. Such displays and the raucous revelry that accompanied them alarmed Church authorities. In the sixteenth century they began to issue prohibitions against these kinds of events. Nevertheless, groups of young people in Sweden maintained the goat as a sort of mascot when they caroled and danced for their neighbors around Christmas time. In the eighteenth century the goat adopted a new Christmas role in Sweden: gift bringer. In the late nineteenth century, however, this task was taken over by the Jultomten.

The Yule goat also visited Denmark and Finland in past times, but not as a gift giver. The Danish Klapparbock and the Finnish Joulupukki frightened children and warned them to behave. Although the Finnish gift bearer of today resembles Father Christmas, he still bears the name "Joulupukki," which translates as "Yule buck."


In Sweden the Yule goat, or Julbock, lives on as a favorite Christmas decoration. In Norway a contemporary Christmas custom took its name, Julbukk, from the ancient Yule goat. Groups of costumed children and adults walk through their neighborhood entertaining householders with songs in exchange for treats. These groups may bring a goat with them, or someone may dress as a goat and impersonate the animal's typically unruly behavior. Sometimes, costumed goats discipline misbehaving children by butting them. If two costumed goats meet, they often entertain onlookers by engaging in a play fight.

Further Reading

Del Re, Gerard, and Patricia Del Re. The Christmas Almanack. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979. Ross, Corinne. Christmas in Scandinavia. Chicago: World Book, 1977.

Web Sites

A site sponsored by the Finnish Embassy:

A site sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: (Click on "Language," "English," "History, culture, geography, recreation," then scroll down to "Christmas in Norway.")
References in periodicals archive ?
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