STOCKHOLM - Not even a layer of ice was enough to keep three people from torching the giant straw goat in a Swedish town where the annual challenge of charring it to the ground has become an unusual Christmas tradition for vandals.
The 13-meter (43-foot) high and 3.6 ton heavy straw goat in the Swedish town of Gavle, meant to symbolize the seasonal spirit, was engulfed in flames Thursday after the assailants crossed the fence surrounding it before setting it on fire. Over the years, the goat has been burned down 26 times.
"Three guys snuck up to it and injected something into its leg and torched it," said Eje Berglund, who chairs the committee in charge of setting it up.
The straw goat is a centuries-old Scandinavian Yule symbol that preceded Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes. Many Swedes place a small straw goat underneath their Christmas trees, or hang miniature versions on the branches.
Aside from covering the Gavle goat in ice, authorities in the city have previously also tried to protect the 200,000 kronor ($30,000) Christmas symbol by using fireproofing chemicals and security guards. But only about a dozen of the goats have survived since the tradition of setting them up started in 1966.
And arson in not the only way people have tried to destroy it.
In 1976, it was run down by a car and in 2010, a plot to "kidnap" the goat with a helicopter and bring it to Stockholm was unveiled.
There has never been a clear motive why people attack the goat other than the challenge of trying to outwit authorities' attempts to protect it.