Nordic Christmas Traditions: The Nordic Christmas Goat (Yule Goat)

I love learning the traditions that have been passed down through the centuries to get to the beliefs we celebrate today, don’t you? Since, I have been posting my Norwegian travels, I thought it might be fun to share some Christmas Nordic traditions.  We’ve been visiting goat farms and have seen the goats for ourselves!

Flåm, Norway Goats
Bearded Goat in Flåm, Norway
Very Friendly Goats in Undredal, Norway
Very Friendly Goats in Undredal, Norway

I’m starting with the Yule Goat! The first is a Christmas card from 1836 , that kind of tied all the old traditions together………..

Old Christmas, Riding a Goat, Norway by Robert Seymour, 1836

The Yule Goats traditions go back to ancient pagan festivals and worship of the Norse god, Thor.  Thor rode through the sky in a chariot pulled by two goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóst, for short we’ll call them Gris and Jóst.

Later, through the centuries, the last sheaf of grain from the harvest was credited with magical properties and saved for the Yule celebrations called Julbocken (Yule Goat)

Even later, Christians adopted the goat as a symbol for Christmas and used the chained goat to represent the Devil, Lucifer, who was conquered by St Nicholas and then was destined to go with him, by pulling his sleigh of gifts for the children (That goat became a reindeer years later)

Goats made of straw or roughly-hewn wood were said to have invisible spirits that would appear some time before Christmas to make sure the Yule preparations were done right. A popular Christmas prank was to place a Yule Goat in a neighbor’s house without them noticing: the family successfully pranked, had to get rid of the goat in the same way!

In later traditions, from the 17th century on,  in a custom similar to the English tradition of wassailing, young men walked to the neighborhood houses, singing songs, performing tricks and demanding gifts, disguised as goats. The folks would have to appease the goats by giving them drink or small eats. This tradition is thought to be the beginnings of the Trick or Treat events at Halloween!

By the 19th century, the Yule Goat’s role had shifted towards the giver of Christmas gifts, with the men in the family dressing up as the aYule Goat, similar to our Santa Claus and the celebrations of St Nicholas. The goat was then replaced by the jultomte (Father Christmas/Santa Claus) 

The Yule Goat in Nordic Countries is best known as a Christmas ornament. It is made of straw and bound in red ribbons. They can be found in all sizes at the Christmas Markets.

Old Christmas Goat in Straw

The large, large, large Yule Goats are featured in the larger cities.  The first really big goat was the tradition started with the  Gävle Goat in the 1960’s.  My photo of this goat is bigger than an ornament, but in some cities they are the size of the buildings!

Straw Christmas Goat

I hope you have enjoyed my first of the Nordic Christmas Traditions series! See you soon with more!

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Lauren says:

    Very interesting- thanks!


  2. Jo Shafer says:

    Christmas goats are a new idea to me, yet it’s ancient. I like the pen-and-ink sketch of Father Christmas riding his special goat, carrying the Christ Child under his arm, along with a bag of Christmas sweets and a bowl of wassail. Love it!


    1. Yes that Christmas card has all the right stuff! Are you ready for the holidays? Will you be able to see your kids? We have rented a house in Tennessee this year, we have never done that before…….

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jo Shafer says:

    We’re not going anywhere but I’m sure we’ll visit the Florida children via Skype. I haven’t quite figured out the Zoom thing. To me, “zoom” means zoom outa heah!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am studying Norwegian on Duolingo! Love that app! Anyway I have to go back to Norway again I loved it sooooooo much! This week they had a meet up with other Norwegian learners and it was a zoom thing! I ‘m like you I had no clue how to do it! Now I will have to master Zoom and then try to get in the group! Maybe after Christmas, I’m a little busy right now! I figure by the time all the COVID restrictions are lifted or we all have had the vaccine I will be able to return to Norway! I should know a lot of the language by then! Ha ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jo Shafer says:

    Good for you, Cady. I can hardly wait to get the vaccine. Won’t be long, now.


    1. I hope not! I figure by late Spring maybe!


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