Saturday, December 02, 2006

Julbock the Christmas goat

Maybe he's the pagan Pan, maybe he's the universal scapegoat, maybe he's that mysterious creature Masons ride, or maybe he's just ticked off because he didn't get a front-row seat at the Manger Scene... whoever he is, he's one of the oldest Christmas characters around, probably pre-dating Christmas by hundreds of years.

He's the Julbock, the Yule Goat, a tradition in Scandanavia for centuries, and in Bishop Hill, Illinois, at least since the town was founded in 1846.

Today, a man plays the impish goat, popping out from behind corners, trees and windowes to bop passers-by on the head with a bouquet of dried flowers or just scare them silly. I imagine him as Ernest T. Bass, only with goat horns.

In the past, the Julbock was the bringer of gifts to the Midwest's Scandinavian-American children, but eventually, Christians complained about the Julbock's pagan heritage, and so he was slowly demoted to, basically, a Christmas elf or gnome. Eventually, he became in many places known by a new name, Jultomte, and with a new purpose. His job was to protect farmers' homes and barns while they slept, and to pay him, a bowl of porridge was left under the porch on Christmas Eve.

It's not just coincidence that the astrological month of Capricorn the Goat begins on December 22, the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere and just three days before Christmas.

Image: The goat Julbock with the elf Tomten, delivering presents. Courtesy

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