The history of the Gävle Goat began in 1966. An advertising consultant, Stig Gavlén, came up with the idea of making a giant version of the traditional Swedish Yule Goat and placing it in the square. Ironically, considering its later history, the design of the first goat was assigned to the then chief of the Gävle fire department, Gavlén's brother Jesper Gavlén. The construction of the goat was carried out by the fire department, and they erected the goat each year from 1966 to 1970 and from 1986 to 2002. The first goat was financed by a man named Harry Ström. On 1 December 1966, a 13-metre (43 ft) tall, 7-metre (23 ft) long, 3-tonne goat was erected in the square. However, at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, the goat went up in flames.
The goat has since had a history of being burnt down roughly every other year, 2009 being the 24th time. The financing for the initial goats came from a group of businessmen known as the Southern Merchants (Söders Köpmän), so named because all their members were located on the southern side of Gavleån ("Gavle river"), a river that runs through central Gävle dividing the town into north and south.
In 1971, the Southern Merchants became so frustrated with the continual burning of their goats, that for 15 years they stopped building them, and the task was taken up by the Natural Science Club of the School of Vasa. The Natural Science Club's Yule Goat fared no better; besides being burnt and vandalised, one year it was even run over by a car. From 1988 onward, English bookmakers made it possible to bet on the goat's destiny.
In 1996 the Southern Merchants introduced webcams to monitor the goat 24 hours a day, with little or no success. On 27 November 2004 the Gävle Goat's homepage was hacked into and one of the two official webcams changed to display "Burn Bockjaevel" (translation: Burn the damn Goat) in the left corner of its live feed. One year, while security guards were posted around the goat in order to prevent further vandalism, the temperature dropped far below zero. As the guards ducked into a nearby restaurant to escape the cold, the vandals struck. Before they even had a chance to raise their glasses they saw flames shooting from the goat through the restaurant window.
During the weekend of December 3-4, 2005 a series of attacks on public Yule Goats across Sweden were carried out; The Gävle Goat was burnt on December 3, which escalated into a frenzy of copycat goat-burning across Sweden. The Visby goat on Gotland burned down, the Yule Goat in Söderköping, Östergötland was torched, and there was an attack on a goat located in Lycksele, Västerbotten. That goat escaped with only minor burn marks on the legs.