The Christmas Goat
While New Year’s Eve revelers were waiting to drink their champagne at the stroke of midnight, another lesser known holiday celebration was winding down: Julebukking.
A recent visit to Northfield, Minnesota introduced me to the Norwegian celebration known as Julebukking (pronounced “yule-booking”). Similar to Halloween, people dress up in costume and go door-to-door singing songs and being rewarded in sweet treats or drinks. Once the identity of the costumed Julebukker is determined, they move on to the next house. How is this different from Halloween? Julebukking is celebrated between Christmas and New Years and involves people of all ages. The enthusiastic adults that introduced me to this holiday celebration had stories that included strong drinks, high jinx, and lots of laughter.
The Norwegian tradition of Julebukk (“Christmas Buck” or “Yule Goat”) dates back to pagan worship of the god Thor who traveled by a chariot drawn by goats. Thor’s practice of sacrificing the goats for food and then restoring them to life became symbolic of the return of the sun after the long, dark days of winter. Yule holiday celebrations in Scandinavia and Northern Europe developed around the goat where it became a watchful spiritual being in the house during Christmas. This spirit was later personified by adults in the community who dressed in goat masks or capes and traveled from door-to-door representing the ghosts of winter night. The townsfolk would thank them for their protection with gifts and the masked adults would remind children to be nice. When Christianity was later adopted, some of the celebrations persisted and many of the holiday symbols were disassociated from their pagan origins.
Scandinavian immigrants brought the tradition of Julebukking to America, but the practice is slowly fading into memory. I love this firsthand account of Julebukking from Howard Sherpe and the ones from my Norwegian friends in Northfield. If rural areas in the Midwest and Alaska area still celebrating, could it make a comeback? It has me wondering if I could I could organize a Julebukking party on my block in Minneapolis next year – though, I think we’d have to schedule an evening of revelry as opposed to an entire week. Nowadays people are less receptive to masked adults showing up on their doorsteps unexpectedly in the dark of night.