A Yule goat for the holidays - and for good crops

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
Bundles of rice straw are wrapped around a metal superstructure for the Yule goat at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle.

EAGLE - When entering Old World Wisconsin, a tall — easily three times higher than an average sized man — figure can be glimpsed through bare winter branches. It stands staunchly facing east, defying any wind, waiting it's demise as Christmas approaches and the New Year unfolds.

This particular Yule goat however, will not be burned as tradition would have it, nor will it likely fall victim to an arsonist's torch as many have in other countries.

Adam Loften, a member of the farm staff at Old World Wisconsin, said the Yule goat is a Scandinavian tradition brought to Wisconsin in the mid 1800s and still sporadically practiced in small communities in Wisconsin. 

A Yule goat greets visitors to Old World Wisconsin. This is the second year farm staff has created the structure based off Scandinavian tradition.

It's the second year the goat has made its appearance at the outdoor museum. Last year's goat was much more fragile, Loften said, since the skeleton was made out of wood. 

"But again, they [Yule goats] were made to be destroyed," added Loften. 

Most Yule goats would stand 4 to 6-feet tall and would be burned at the end of the season with the hopes it would bring a good harvest next year. 

With Old World Wisconsin being a destination site in the southeastern part of the state, Loften said this year's Yule goat "was built to reflect that."

The Yule goat or Julbock (Christmas goat) is a symbol of the winter holiday in Scandinavian countries, according to In modern times the straw figure of a goat, traditionally made from the last grain of the harvest, was bundled in red ribbons and kept as a toke of hope for the New Year. 

The Yule goat started as a symbol connected to the Norse god Thor. In the 19th century it became the giver of gifts, much like Santa Claus, according to 

Visitors at Old World Wisconsin in Eagle stop to get a photo with the outdoor musuem's Yule goat.

The Yule goat at Old World Wisconsin pales in comparison to the Gävle in Sweden. The first Gävle goat erected on Dec. 1, 1966 was 13 meter tall, seven meters long and weighed three tons. An arsonist  burnt it down on New Year's Eve. 

Since then the tradition has turned from not only building the Yule goat, but for people to find ways to approach the goat and set fire to it. 

The only people approaching the Old World Wisconsin Yule goat were ones taking photos. 

As one couple approached, the man handed his camera to the lady at his side so he could stand in front of the goat. Snapping the photo the lady laughed, "From one old goat to another."