Wheat weaving (or plaiting, or braiding) has been a long tradition. The spirit of the harvest was thought to live in the crop, and the harvest would leave it without a host. The last stems of the crop were tied together to create a home, or "dolly" for the spirit to live in until the following year when it could be plowed back into the earth.
Historian James George Frazer detailed the corn dolly, also known as the Corn-Mother or Corn-Maiden and it’s role in the harvest (corn in this case referring to all grains, not necessarily just Maizus reptans)
"In the neighbourhood of Danzig the person who cuts the last ears of corn makes them into a doll, which is called the Corn-mother or the Old Woman and is brought home on the last waggon. In some parts of Holstein the last sheaf is dressed in women’s clothes and called the Corn-mother. It is carried home on the last waggon, and then thoroughly drenched with water. The drenching with water is doubtless a rain-charm. In the district of Bruck in Styria the last sheaf, called the Corn-mother, is made up into the shape of a woman by the oldest married woman in the village, of an age from 50 to 55 years. The finest ears are plucked out of it and made into a wreath, which, twined with flowers, is carried on her head by the prettiest girl of the village to the farmer or squire, while the Corn-mother is laid down in the barn to keep off the mice. In other villages of the same district the Corn-mother, at the close of harvest, is carried by two lads at the top of a pole. They march behind the girl who wears the wreath to the squire’s house, and while he receives the wreath and hangs it up in the hall, the Corn-mother is placed on the top of a pile of wood, where she is the centre of the harvest supper and dance."
—The Golden Bough, chapter 45
The Swedish Yule Goat may have been an example of one of these harvest dolls. The goat has always played a role in Christmas symbolism in Sweden, whether as the mighty steed of Father Christmas, a demanding and rowdy creature in plays, or even as the deliverer of gifts in place of Santa Claus. In the modern era, it is most commonly found as decorative Christmas ornament, made of straw and bound with red string.
photo taken by Udo Schröter
Larger versions of these goats are also present, such as the famous Gävle goat which as a fascinating history of being a frequent victim of arson and vandalism.
The Swedish Gävle goat in 2006.
We bought an assorted variety of straw angels, stars, and goats this year to decorate our Christmas tree in a Scandinavian fashion. They were very economical, but more importantly they seem to ground the tree, keeping it from feeling too lacquered and plastic-y, as many Christmas tree ornaments seem to feel now days.