Botany features strongly in the Christmas story of Jesus’s birth in a stable. There are Christmas carols suggesting the presence of both hay and straw. Whether Mary’s baby lay in a manger of straw or hay, the grass family or Poaceae remains central to Nativity scenes.
What’s the difference between hay and straw? Hay is made as a nutritious animal feed from grasses. Straw refers to the stems left over after cereal crop grains have been harvested. They have very low nutritional value.
Straw is particularly relevant to Swedish Christmas traditions. Sweden has a long tradition of Christmas straw ornaments. The straw goat of Gävle has become so famous that he has its own social media account, souvenir merchandise, webcam and security detail.
The tale of the Advent Gävle Goat or Julbocken goes back to 1966. It formed part of a marketing campaign to encourage more visits to the town’s shops and restaurants during the Christmas period. The misadventures of the Gävle Goat have become famous – or should that be infamous? He has been been hit by a car. He has caught fire or, more correctly, been the target of arsonists on numerous occasions. He has even been the subject of hacker attacks and a daring helicopter kidnap attempt.
In recent years, he has survived thanks to the determination of the locals and round-the-clock, personal security. Over the years, he has gone up in smoke in more years than he has survived. That probably explains the imaginative fire blanket souvenirs.
The Gävle Goat is made out of wheat straw mats (Triticum aestivum) over a Pine skeleton. The wood is reputed to be Swedish Pine. This seems to relate to our Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestnis.
Why a Straw Goat?
The Nordic tradition traces back to Pagan times. The Yule goat helped deliver Christmas presents in Sweden. Father Christmas is sometimes shown with a goat as opposed to a sleigh with reindeer. As a result, small straw goats are popular as Christmas decorations. They certainly seem preferable to a lot of the UK’s decorations made out of artificial materials.
2020 Advent Fate?
Will the Gävle Goat survive this Advent period into the New Year? You can keep an eye on him on his webcam or follow him on Twitter @Gavlebocken #gävlebocken. At the time of writing, he is still standing. So far he has tweeted boastfully about his size and his baby brother’s company on the square. For obvious reasons, he is very wary of candles and, very sensibly, doesn’t play with matches.
References and Further Reading
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