The Yule Goat: Retired Christmas Icon
“My goats are not contemplative, accepting, or introspective. They are the Greek chorus of my farm, sometimes of my life. They watch me closely and remind me that I am foolish” – Jon Katz
Life is hard. Then you’re a goat. Then you’re a goat without a job, which one might consider the natural state of a goat, unless of course you’re The Yule Goat. You see, before Santa and his enslaved elves ran roughshod over the image of Christmas, and cornered the market as the symbol of the season, there were a plethora of local traditions and personages associated with it. In Scandinavia and Northern Europe there was the Yule Goat.
Yule, written about as early as the 5th Century A.D. was a twelve-day Norse and Germanic festival held yearly sometime between November and January, and was believed to be connected with the god Odin (and possibly Thor, who rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats) and “the Wild Hunt”. In the 10th Century, King Haakon I was busy Christianizing Norway. As part of his reformulation of Norway’s pagan traditions, he rescheduled Yule to coincide with Christmas, as his power was shaky and he still needed the support of many decidedly non-Christian chieftains, thus couldn’t outright do away with Yule traditions.
It’s no wonder that the Yule Goat got replaced with the more user-friendly Father Christmas. The Yule goat was a bit of a taskmaster. Rather than bringing you presents, he expected to be given them when he showed up at your door. Similarly, he was credited with checking up on you to make sure your Yule preparations were done correctly.
In the 19th century, the Yule Goat was still around in Scandinavia, but had shifted to a “gift-bringer” and a Nordic Christmas ornament, typically made from corn husks. I mean, let’s face it – would you rather be visited by a jolly fat man in resplendent velvet robes who brings gifts and only asks for cookies and milk in return (and perhaps a little less naughtiness), or a demanding goat.