updated 12/27/2008 2:00:06 PM ET 2008-12-27T19:00:06

A giant Christmas straw goat that has been targeted in a violent Christmas tradition for four decades in Sweden was burned down yet again on Saturday, an official said.

"It was set on fire early in the morning; it's very sad," goat committee spokeswoman Anna Ostman said. "People from 105 countries have followed the goat via the Web cams and many become really sad when they learn that he's burned down. We have heard from a lot of people, including the United States."

Vandals have burned the 43-foot-high goat 23 times since it was first set up in the central Swedish city of Gavle on Dec. 3, 1966, to mark the holiday season.

The traditional yuletide goat has also been smashed several times, run over by a car and had its legs cut off.

A year ago the goat made it through the holiday season.

Vandals are seldom caught, but in 2001, the goat was set on fire by a 51-year-old visitor from Cleveland, Ohio, who was convicted and spent 18 days in jail.

In 2005, the goat was burned down by two arsonists dressed up as Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Man. They were never caught.

Authorities in Gavle have tried to protect the goat using fireproofing chemicals and security guards. But only 10 of the goats have survived beyond Christmas since 1966.

The goat is a centuries-old Scandinavian yule symbol that preceded Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes. Many Swedes place a small straw goat underneath their Christmas trees, or hang miniature versions on the branches.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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