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The Julebukk (The Christmas Goat)

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

If you visit Scandinavia around Christmas time you will be confronted by the strangest of creatures, the julebukk or Christmas goat. You will find them everywhere from small straw versions to giant julebukk in towns and cities.

The legend of the julebukk predates Christianity and takes us back to the times of the Old Norse Gods Odin, Thor, Freja and all those living in the realm of Asgård. Thor would ride across the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats,

In Sweden the Christmas goat is thought to be an invisible and magical creature that would suddenly appear before Christmas to check that Yule preparations were being done in the right way.

Back in Pagan times, the last sheaf of corn from the harvest was considered to have magical powers. It was carefully bundled up and saved for the Yule celebrations and called the julebocken. It sounds just like julebukk doesn't it and hence the reason traditional julebukk are made from straw.

Norwegian julebukk
The julebukk is most often seen hanging on a tree at Christmas time

These days the julebukk is generally found under the Christmas tree or hanging from the tree, but there is still a mysterious tradition that takes place after Christmas around the julebukk.

The mysterious and slightly scary julebukking tradition. Photo courtesy of Norsk Folkemusueum

It's called julebukking. It's very much like "trick or treating" at Halloween but it takes place in "romjul", the period between Christmas and New Year. In the evening groups of people dress up and go from house to house knocking on the doors and singing Christmas songs in exchange for candy or treats. After each stop someone from that household has to join the throng and carry on to the next house. Sometimes the neighbours who answer door have to try and guess who is in disguise and you might even encounter someone dressed as the julebukk!

It's a fun activity that reminds us of the more ancient roots of this festive time of year, Yule (Jul).

Have you joined the Living a Nordic Life Facebook group? If not you are very welcome to join us. All through December I am posting each day about a Nordic jul tradition food or activity, and we are filling our news feeds with Nordic festive beauty.

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