The Declaration of Christmas Peace in Turku

From Elävän perinnön wikiluettelo
The Declaration of Christmas Peace in Turku
In the national inventory
Location Turku, South-West Finland
Tags Christmas, Christmas peace, annual festivals, celebration

Practitioners and people who know the tradition well

The best known declaration of Christmas peace takes place in Turku every year. Christmas peace has also been declared in other older cities of Finland or the tradition has been brought back to life.

In many Finnish homes, a typical Christmas Eve includes watching the declaration of Christmas peace on the TV. Over million viewers watch the real-time broadcast of the declaration of Christmas peace and it is one of the most viewed TV programmes broadcast by the TV channel YLE 1. Every year, 10,000–15,000 people come together in Turku’s Old Great Square to listen to the declaration of Christmas peace.

A balcony decorated with two christmas trees.
Christmas peace is declared in the Old Great Square of Turku, from the balcony of Brinkkala Mansion. Photo: City of Turku.

The person who declares Christmas peace was usually an office holder with some authority related to maintenance of order in the city, and thus the tradition concerning the person giving the declaration is still followed.

Practising of the tradition

There is a traditional format for declaring Christmas peace from the balcony of Brinkkala Mansion in Turku, Finland. The event begins with the hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, and then the bell of Turku Cathedral strikes twelve. The band plays the fanfare Marsalkan hopeatorvet (‘The Marshal’s silver horns’) composed by Artturi Rope, and the declaration reader steps onto the balcony. Since 1895, after the declaration text is read, the crowd has sung the national anthem and, since 1896, the band has played Porilaisten marssi (March of the Pori Regiment). Singing the hymn with lyrics by Martti Luther was included in the tradition in 1903. All the songs selected are related to emphasising a sense of nationality during the period of oppression.

The declaration of Christmas peace is read in Finnish and Swedish: "Tomorrow, God willing, is the graceful celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour; and thus is declared a peaceful Christmas time to all, by advising devotion and to behave otherwise quietly and peacefully, because he who breaks this peace and violates the peace of Christmas by any illegal or improper behaviour shall under aggravating circumstances be guilty and punished according to what the law and statutes prescribe for each and every offence separately." Finally, a joyous Christmas feast is wished to all inhabitants of the city.

The background and history of the tradition

Turku Old Great Square.
Photo: City of Turku.

The declaration of Christmas peace has been broadcasted on the radio since 1935 and televised as a live broadcast since 1983, and was broadcasted online for the first time in 2006. Swedish television has broadcasted the declaration since 1986. The event is also transmitted to Finns living abroad through the YLE international service. When the radio broadcasts of the Christmas peace declaration in Turku were started, it became a tradition that officially started Christmas for all Finns.

Christmas peace is an ordinance of old, Nordic legislation concerning a period of 20 days during Christmas time. In medieval times in the Kingdom of Sweden, Christmas peace was the King’s peace, through which the ruler used his jurisdiction over family communities. Other similar laws were, for example, District Court peace and Market peace. Any punishments given for crimes that took place during the Christmas peace were harsher than during other times. Christmas peace was necessary because the free time during the Christmas holidays could lead to restlessness and caused a fire hazard, in particular. Finland is the only Nordic country that has kept the tradition of declaring Christmas peace.

The declaration of Christmas peace has been read in Turku as an almost unbroken tradition for 700 years, ever since the 14th century. The declaration of Christmas peace has been made from the balcony of Brinkkala Mansion since 1886. Reportedly, Christmas peace was not declared during the Great Northern War 1712–1721, possibly during 1809–1815, during the militia strike in 1917 and during the Winter War in 1939, for fear of air raids. Due to the corona pandemic, the declaration of Christmas peace was announced in 2020 and 2021 without the presence of the public at the Old Great Square. However, the event was televised and broadcast on the radio normally.

The oldest preserved Christmas peace declaration texts are from the 17th century. The current text was written by the magistrate’s secretary from memory after the Great Fire of Turku in 1827. Even though the declaration of Christmas peace states that harsher punishments await those that commit crimes during Christmas peace, the declaration has not had any legal significance since 1889.

The transmission of the tradition

The Christmas traditions of families and other groups have a central role in passing this tradition on. For many, Christmas celebrations start with the declaration of Christmas peace. In the Turku region, parents may take their children to listen to the declaration being read from the balcony of Brinkkala Mansion and elsewhere in Finland people gather around the television or radio.

The future of the tradition

Turku’s declaration of Christmas peace is one of the most established traditions that bring Finns together every year. It has a very stable status and its strength is its constancy. Many people see traditions and established practices that have passed on from generation to generation as a part of Christmas spirit. The established status of the declaration of Christmas peace among the Christmas traditions of many Finns should also secure this tradition’s continuance in the future.

The communities behind this submission

City of Turku, Turkuseura Society (Turkuseura-Åbosamfundet ry)

Bibliography and links to external sources of information

City of Turku: Christmas Peace YLE News 24.12.2017: Declaration of Christmas Peace in Turku 2017 Video: Declaration of Christmas Peace in Turku 2017