It was bound to happen. After all, what says Christmas more than singed straw and blackened steel frames. Nothing, at least not in Gävle, Sweden.
Every year, residents in the northern Swedish city built a massive straw goat and nearly every year, arsonists either try or succeed in burning the 13-meter tall structure to the ground. The 2011 goat went up Nov. 27 and was the 45th the city has built. On Dec. 6, it became the 28th to succumb to flames.
Sometime early in the morning, vandals set fire to the giant goat and disappeared as the flames quickly engulfed the statue. Despite officials using flame-retardant chemicals to protect the goat, the poor beast was no match for, well, matches.
“Only the skeleton is left,” Sven-Erik Hammar of the Gävle police told news agency TT.
Despite emergency services arriving on the scene within a few minutes, firefighters could not save the goat..
“It all went damn quickly,” eye-witness Felix Söderström told daily Aftonbladet.
The first year the goat went up in the city square was 1966. It was also the first time someone burned it down. The goat and its battle against arson makes headlines around the world and often divides the city that builds it. Half of Gavle’s population reportedly takes pride in building the goat while the other half allegedly enjoys burning it down. It even attracts international participation.
In 2001, an American tourist torched the goat. He served a month in jail and paid a 100,000 kronor ($14,700) fine despite claiming in his defense he thought he was participating in a local and perfectly legal tradition.
Turning the goat into kindling isn’t the only pastime during long, dark winter nights. Since 1988, people around the world have enjoyed betting on whether or how long the goat might survive the Yule season.
Oddsmakers have even learned to include the methods city officials take to protect their beloved straw goat. This year was no exception. The half of the city that tries to protect the goat decided an icy coat would be the best deterrent. People doused the goat with water, expecting it to freeze into a fire-proof barrier. However, due to a so-far unusually mild winter, the goat simply got wet.
The straight-forward fire was one of the more pedestrian methods vandals have used to destroy the goat. Previous attempts to sabotage it have included the bribing of security guards and a foiled helicopter heist.

Staff and wire reports