Page last updated at 13:15 GMT, Saturday, 27 December 2008

Festive goat up in flames again

Gavle goat
Authorities in Gavle had tried to fireproof the goat

A giant straw goat erected each Christmas in a northern Swedish town has been burned down - yet again.

The 13m-high (43ft) animal in Gavle has been torched 23 times since it was first erected in 1966. It has also been hit by a car and had its legs cut off.

The vandals are rarely caught, though in 2001 a 51-year-old American tourist spent 18 days in jail after being convicted of setting it alight.

In 2007, the goat managed to make it through the festive season unscathed.

Goat committee spokeswoman Anna Ostman said she was saddened to learn that this year's unlucky creature had been set on fire early on Saturday morning.

But she said: "We have been so happy that he survived through Christmas Eve, which is the toughest period every year.

"So far this year, people from 105 countries have followed the goat via the webcams and many become really sad when they learn that he's burned down."

The 7m-long (23ft), three tonne goat was originally designed to attract tourists to Gavle, which is 106 miles (170km) north of the Swedish capital.

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 fireproofing - but still goes up in smoke

But in its first year it was burned down on New Year's Eve and since then has been attacked regularly.

In 2005, it was torched by two arsonists dressed as Father Christmas and the Gingerbread Man.

Authorities in Gavle have tried to protect the goat using fireproofing chemicals and security guards.

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

Goats have a special place in Swedish tradition. According to folklore, they delivered festive gifts before Father Christmas took over.

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