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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 December 2005, 16:11 GMT
Weird ritual of the burning goat
The straw goat after it was set alight in Gavle, Sweden
The goat has burned down 22 times since 1966
A giant straw goat erected every year in a Swedish town to mark the festive season has been burned down - again.

Police in the town of Gavle said the 13-metre (43ft) high billy goat has been set on fire so often it has almost become a Christmas ritual.

It was the 22nd time it has gone up in smoke since the town, north of Stockholm, began the tradition in 1966.

Two men were seen running from the blaze, one of whom was disguised as Father Christmas, said police.

Police spokeswoman Margareta Olander said officers received a call late Saturday evening to report the goat was on fire.

"In just a couple of minutes only a sooty wooden skeleton remained," police spokeswoman Margareta Olander told Associated Press.

1966: The first goat is burned down - beginning the tradition
1970: It is set on fire six hours after being erected
1971: Tired of arson, the project is abandoned. Schoolchildren build a miniature. It is smashed to pieces.
1976: A car crashes into the goat
1979: The goat is burned down before it is finished
1987: The goat is treated with fire-proofing - but still goes up in smoke

Several measures have been tried to protect the goat with varying degrees of success, including fire-proofing, security guards and a web camera.

Just 10 of the goats, which are built in the town's central square, have survived beyond Christmas since 1966.

Most have been burned, sometimes within hours of being built during the first week of December.

The culprits are seldom caught. However, a 51-year-old American tourist spent 18 days in jail after being convicted of setting it alight in December 2001.

Country profile: Sweden
04 Sep 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Sweden
03 Dec 04 |  Country profiles

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