Even though one would think that Christmas in Finland is mainly linked to Lapland, Turku plays an essential role in Finnish Christmas celebrations.
What it is
The declaration of Christmas Peace is one of Turku’s, and Finland’s, oldest traditions. No only does it marks the beginning of the Christmas festivities, but it is also a great occasion for the inhabitants of Turku to gather to enjoy the beginning of the holidays.
The declaration of Christmas Peace is, simply put, an embodiment of the concept of the ”Christmas truce” spirit. Its purpose is to remind everyone of the special character of this moment in the year, and thus deter anyone from committing a crime of creating trouble during this time.
The declaration is read by the head of protocol for the city of Turku, currently Mika Akkanen. The text is read both in Swedish and Finnish from the balcony of the Brinkkala house (since 1886). This house and the surroundings are where the old marketplace was located.
This tradition is probably one of the oldest in Finland. The declaration can be traced back to the 1320s, so almost 700 ago!
The practice finds its origin in a policy enacted by a Swedish ruler, Birger Jarl, who also brought Finland within Swedish control. The idea was to ensure Christmas Peace by, amongst other things, enforcing harsher punishment for offenders of crimes during Christmas time.
The fact that the declaration is read in Turku instead of Helsinki, for example, is simply due to Turku long history as the Finnish Capital (until 1812). Interestingly, some of the oldest towns in Finland also read a declaration of Christmas Peace, such as Rauma, Porvoo, and Pori.
Through time, the declaration of Christmas Peace has been given almost every year. Only a few years went by without the declaration, usually at times of major trouble such as the Russian occupation between 1712 and 1721. The last time the declaration wasn’t held was in 1939, for fear of air raids during the war with Russia.
Significance of the declaration of Christmas Peace
The declaration occupies an important place in Finland. It is broadcast nation-wide on national television (Yle), and radio (since 1935). It also usually draws an important crowd, an impressive feat in December.
Although the original text of the declaration has been lost, this is how the current text (from 1903) can be translated:
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.
So now that you know more about this wonderful tradition, a merry Christmas and a happy new year to you!