The Fiery History of Scandinavia's Yule Goat

In Gävle, Sweden, nothing says “Christmas” like the sight of a four-ton straw goat overlooking the town square. Too bad some jerk usually comes along and lights it on fire.

The first Gävle Goat was put up on December 1, 1966. Financed by a local entrepreneur, the magnificent beast stood 23 feet in length and over four stories tall. But this colossus of holiday cheer went up in smoke that New Year’s Eve at the hands of a nearby pyromaniac. Luckily, the goat was insured and the perpetrator was charged with vandalism. Since then, a new model is built from hay (almost) every year in a tradition that ranks among the country’s most famous.

Unfortunately—as the good people of Gävle know all too well—no goat is hooligan-proof. In 2012, it only took until December 12th for that year's specimen to be burned to a crisp.

But petty arson is hardly the worst fate that can befall a Gävle goat. Other grisly demises include getting kicked to pieces and being hit by a car. In 2010, a pair of schemers planned to kidnap the goat and transport it to Stockholm via helicopter, only to have the guard on duty reject their bribe of 50,000 kronor (about $7350).

Fed up with these malicious acts of violence against fake livestock, in 2013 officials announced that the straw used in that year's incarnation had been treated with fire-proof liquids.

This strange Gävle custom was inspired by the yule goat of Scandinavian lore. Horned herbivores have enjoyed a rich history in the region’s culture and mythology; even the mighty god Thor himself was said to have ridden in a cart pulled by a pair of goats named Tanngniost and Tanngrisnir, who could be killed and devoured before coming back to life the following morning.

This may have inspired the subsequent mid-winter Norwegian custom of Julebukking (“yule-goating”), which involved going door to door dressed like goats while singing carols in pursuit of snacks and alcohol. Modern children have since revived this pre-Christian practice, albeit with slight alterations.

Today, yule goat figurines are a commonly-used Christmas ornament constructed from straw, with braided horns and red ribbons wrapped around their necks. Generally placed under the tree, these can also be mischievously hidden in the house of a friend or neighbor, with the understanding that it’s now their turn to go and plant it in somebody else’s home. For more information on this remarkable piece of Scandinavian heritage, head here.

How Mister Rogers Used King Friday to Make Friday the 13th Less Scary for Kids

Getty Images
Getty Images

King Friday XIII, son of King Charming Thursday XII and Queen Cinderella Monday, is an avid arts lover, a talented whistler, and a former pole vaulter. He reigns over Calendarland with lots of pomp and poise, and he’s usually correct.

Fans of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood may also remember that the monarch was born on Friday the 13th, because his birthday was celebrated on the program every Friday the 13th. Though the math isn’t perfect—according to Timeanddate.com, Friday the 13th sometimes happens two or three times a year—the heartwarming reason behind the unconventionally-timed birthday celebrations absolutely is.

Fred Rogers explained that he wanted to give children a reason to look forward to Friday the 13th, instead of buying into the negative superstitions that surround the dreaded date. “We thought, ‘Let’s start children out thinking that Friday the 13th was a fun day,’” he said in a 1999 interview. “So we would celebrate his birthday every time a Friday the 13th came.”

Rogers added that the tradition worked out so well partially because the show was broadcast live, and viewers knew to anticipate an especially festive episode whenever they spotted a Friday the 13th on the calendar.

Speaking of calendars: There’s an equally charming story behind the name Calendarland. In the same interview, Rogers disclosed that King Friday once asked children to write in with suggestions for his then-nameless country. One boy posited that since King Friday was named after a calendar date, his realm should be named after the calendar. Then, the lucky youngster was invited to the set, where King Friday christened him a prince of Calendarland.

King Friday might be king of Calendarland, but Mister Rogers is definitely the king of understanding how to make kids feel safe, smart, and special.

Mattel Is Releasing a Day of the Dead Barbie Doll

Mattel
Mattel

Barbie may be celebrating her 60th birthday, but she she looks as fresh-faced today as she did when she first emerged from her box in the spring of 1959. In celebration of Barbie's new sexagenarian status, Mattel—the toy company that has sold more than a billion Barbie dolls—is releasing a range of limited-edition Barbies, including Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, and David Bowie dolls. Now, according to USA Today, the company is getting into the autumnal spirit with its latest collectible: a Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Barbie.

Retailing for $75, the doll will be sold on Amazon and at Target and Walmart stores beginning tomorrow, September 12. The doll “honors the traditions, symbols, and rituals often seen throughout this time,” Mattel told CNN. Día de los Muertos is celebrated primarily in Mexico from October 31 to November 2 and is a day to pay tribute to those who have passed on—who supposedly return for a brief visit of their own.

Barbie has always been known for her excellent fashion sense, and she’s dressed for this occasion wearing a black, ruffled dress embroidered with monarch butterflies, as well as yellow and red marigolds. The Día de los Muertos Barbie's face is painted as a traditional Day of the Dead skull mask and she's decked out with a headpiece featuring marigolds and more monarchs.

The butterflies are symbolic: Every winter in Mexico, billions of monarch butterflies descend into the mountains and forests in Mexico. Because they arrive at the beginning of Day of the Dead, some people believe that the insects are carrying the spirits of the dearly departed with them.

[h/t USA Today]

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