The Julbock

The Julbock or Yule Buck is an holiday custom, a goat made of straw, a little object filled with history that comes from the ancient times when Northern Europe hadn’t been touched by christianization and people were still heathens, celebrating their own holidays.
I actually got my first Julbocks this year, I found them to be really interesting we back home we wanted to decorate the house with those during this season. We bought two little ones and I joked about those being Thor’s goats… well I wasn’t far from the truth, having something in the house and not knowing its real meaning isn’t right for me so I have made some research.

Of course this little symbol has an obvious connection with Thor’s goats, Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr (Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder) and the story of Father Winter comes again, there is much speculation to who is the real Santa Claus. Well, one thing we can be certain, this is something that goes back in history in a time before the Christian figure of Saint Nickolas. The figure of Father Winter tend to be linked to Odin or Thor.
There wused to be a Swedish folk custom that was directly related to Snorri Sturluson’s account of Thor killing his goats for a feast and then raising them from the dead the next day, a story we don’t get tired of hearing especially when it involves the adventure of Tjalf and Roskva. Unfortunately this custom seems to have gone since the mid twenty century (1900’s). The performance is described as an actor, hidden by a coverlet made of skins and wearing a pair of horns, is led into the room by two men, who make believe that they are slaughtering him, while they sing verses referring to the mantles of various colours, whire, red, yellow and blue, which they laid on him, one after the other. At the end of the song, the Jolbock or the Yule Goat, after feigning death, jumps up and skips about to the amusement of all of those who were watching.

We usually see goats in the Norse folklore, most of the times the goat is the companion of the Tomte, a small mythological creature associated with the winter solstice, no taller than three feet, and has a long white beard and colorful clothes, very much like a Gnome. The Tomte or the Tomten, are usually known as the gift bearers, deeply connected with the goat and here we can see the connection to Father Winter, giving gifts, as Odin is often called, The Gift-bearer, The giver of gifts etc.

There is also a Norwegian custom called the Julebukking, where people wear masks and costumes called Julebukkers and go from door to door and neighbors who receive them try to identify who is under the disguise. The Julebukkers will of course attempt to disguise their voices and body language. Offering Julebukkers treats and something to drink is a tradition. Once the Julebukkers have been identified and whatever was given to them is consumed, they move on to the next house. Another tradition requires that at least one person from the visited household join the band of Julebukkers and continue to the next household.

The Julbock is burned during the bonfires that are set during this season as an offering to the gods. Some people write messages to the gods in a piece of paper and place them in the red ribbon in the goat’s neck.

It is interesting to see that this pagan symbol still survives to this day and I’m really happy that I got my first Julbock this year, from my mother side and from my father’s father side my ancestors were Norse and Germanic, but many traditions were lost.. but the moment I saw that goat made of straw, something inside of me awoke, perhaps a feeling shared by my ancestors that still runs through my veins.

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