Religion, Toleration

Tradition! Tradition!

I think about traditions a lot this time of year. Last year, I told you my three favorite stories about tradition. So this morning, when the bizarrely compelling story of the Gävle Goat popped up in my Facebook newsfeed, I knew I had to share it here again.

Apparently the town of Gävle in Sweden builds a giant  straw Yule goat every year.  And every year since the goat-building began, someone has burned it down. As the article notes:

There are two lessons here. One is that festive traditions are pretty mutable. The Gävle authorities think the tradition is erecting the giant Yule Goat. Everyone else thinks the tradition is trying to set fire to it. Both these traditions have co-existed happily, sort of, for nearly half a century.

The other lesson is that people really like setting fire to goats.

Reading the story I was overcome with the need to quote Monty Python (of course), but I was also reminded of the way our traditions evolve and change in unexpected ways.

When I was growing up, we made gingerbread houses every year. They grew increasingly ornate over time–crenelations and portcullises were standard, and melted crushed lifesavers made exceptionally good stained glass–and they were always a highlight of holiday pictures. We kept the house around for weeks.

One year either my sister or I knocked the house off the dining room table. Lower lips began to quiver. Howls of despair and recrimination were JUST about to begin.

Mom stepped in.

“Oh good! You smashed the house on New Year’s Eve. That seems just right. Now we can eat it.”

So we did.

And now, Skwire family gingerbread houses are ritually smashed (with a meat tenderizing mallet) and eaten on New Year’s Eve.

Because it’s tradition.

May your holidays be filled with delightful and delicious emergent orders of all kinds.


  • Steve Horwitz

    This actually not a post about tradition. It’s a post about the Smartest Mom Ever.

  • TracyW

    Aaww, that’s sweet.

  • Olle

    Interestingly enough, it is also tradition in Sweden to build gingerbread houses and demolish them after christmas (exactly when depends on family traditions). Add that to the funny-but-destructive traditions of Sweden!

  • Roderick T. long

    “Leopards keep breaking into the temple and drinking up the contents of the sacrificial urns; this happens again and again, until eventually it becomes possible to predict their action and it becomes part of the ceremony.” — Kafka