Peace of Christmas

Peace of Christmas

The city of Turku, Finland, claims to be the only place in Scandinavia that has observed the old Scandinavian tradition of declaring the "Peace of Christmas" from medieval times to the present. Each year around noon on December 24 a crowd gathers in Old Square, the former center of city government. After the clock of the nearby Turku cathedral strikes twelve they sing "A Safe Stronghold Is Our God," an old hymn by Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). Then, from a balcony overlooking the square, the city clerk reads the words of an old document in Finnish and Swedish, thus signaling the start of the Peace of Christmas. The proclamation advises people to attend to their devotions and behave peacefully towards one another. The document also warns that anyone who violates the Peace of Christmas will answer to the law. The declaration ends by wishing the assembled crowd a Merry Christmas. Afterwards the crowd sings the Finnish national anthem. Both Finnish and Swedish television stations broadcast the event.

The city of Turku, which has declared itself Finland's "Christmas city," hosts another important peace event during the Christmas season. Each year bishops from four denominations make an ecumenical appeal for world peace in a special service held in Turku's cathedral. The bishops represent the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland, the Orthodox Church of Karelia and Finland, the Roman Catholic Church of Finland, and the Methodist Church of Northern Europe. The bishops' appeal is taped and broadcast along with the declaration of the Peace of Christmas.

In past times people took the Peace of Christmas quite seriously. In old Norway the Peace of Christmas began on St. Thomas's Day, December 21. So strong was the desire for harmony that appointed guards roved the towns to insure that peace reigned throughout the season. The penalties for violent crimes doubled during this period, adding extra incentive to comply with the seasonal declaration of peace.

Further Reading

Henriksen, Vera. Christmas in Norway Past and Present. Oslo, Norway: Johan Grundt Tanum Forlag, 1970.

Web Site

A site sponsored by the city of Turku, Finland: city.com
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