"Burning Bock” by Sven Bergvall and Jacob Ostberg. Winner of People’s Choice Award at the ACR Film Festival 2005 in San Antonio, TX, USA.
The straw goat (bock in Swedish) in the town of Gävle, a predecessor to Santa Claus with connotations ranging back to the pagan Viking traditions of Scandinavia, is the largest in the world. Its fame stems, however, from its almost annual burning. Standing as a symbol of both sacred and profane aspects of the Christmas celebration it has become the target of dark forces spreading fire and destruction. This videography explores the Gävleners relation to Christmas, the bock and its destruction.
Christmas is a well-researched event in consumer research, covering topics like ritual Christmas quarrels (Löfgren 1993), materialism (Belk 1989), the appropriation and localization of Christmas (Belk 2004), and even being the topic of an edited volume (Miller 1993). Christmas is in many ways one of the most global events available, there are, however, many local variations to the tradition. In Sweden, many of the Christmas traditions are a peculiar mix of Christian and pagan or Viking traditions. For example, the celebration of Saint Lucia is a disguised version of the pagan ritual of celebrating the bride of light coming on the darkest day of the year. Another Swedish peculiarity is the use of straw goats (bock in Swedish), which are predecessors to Santa Claus with connotations ranging back to the pagan Viking traditions of Scandinavia. For many Swedes, the bocks are as important as the Christmas tree and the crib. The town of Gävle, about two hours north of Stockholm, has since 1966 erected the world’s largest bock on the south side of the Gävle River. While being the world’s largest bock, its fame really stems from the almost annual burning. Standing as a symbol of both sacred and profane aspects of the Christmas celebration it has become the target of dark forces spreading fire and destruction. This videography explores the Gävleners relation to Christmas, the bock and its destruction.
As the bock is a product of the merchants of the south side of Gävle, one could perhaps see the bock burning as a form of market resistance. In that case, the burning has many similarities to the consumption practices at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert (Kozinets 2002). It remains an open question, however, whether the bock-burning has any political overtones. While the efforts to save the bock has increased in intensity every year, with fire extinguishers, fire proofing, and a 24/7-surveillance system broadcasting on the Internet, they all seem futile. The rumor of the burning bock has even led British bookmakers to include it in their listings. Since 1987 one can bet on when the bock is going to burn, integrating this act even further into the market.
The inhabitants of Gävle have a somewhat ambiguous relation to the bock emanating from the fact that while the bock is a beautiful reminder of Christmas, giving rise to, what they claim, the unique Gävle spirit—what has really put Gävle on the map as a tourist destination is rather its destruction. Gävleners are quick to praise and cherish the bock, getting them into the Christmas spirit and claiming it to be the centerpiece of the Gävle Christmas celebration. They speculate on who might be responsible for the burning of the bock and condemn this act of menace. But behind this bock loving façade lurks more murky notions of countdowns to the bock burning and secretly awaiting the burning of the bock before the real Christmas spirit arrives.
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