News from Europe

Thousands of Danes protest plans to abolish Christian holiday

A plan to eliminate a public Christian holiday in Denmark to beef up defense spending drew thousands of protesters to the streets of Copenhagen.


On Sunday, crowds as large as 50,000 took part in what was Denmark’s largest demonstration in more than a decade over a proposal to scrap “Great Prayer Day,” a nearly 330-year-old holiday that falls on the fourth Friday after Easter, according to Reuters.

The proposal was first introduced in December by Denmark’s Social Democratic Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as a means of cutting spending in order to boost defense spending levels to a NATO-led target of 2% of GDP three years ahead of schedule, Reuters reported.

As part of a new bipartisan government, Frederiksen is calling for the holiday’s elimination to free up some 4.5 billion Danish crowns — or roughly $654 million — to meet that target. 

While Frederiksen’s coalition holds a slim majority in the Danish parliament, the proposal is expected to pass despite opposition from union leaders and economists who have cast doubt on the proposal’s projections, according to Reuters.

Essentially a collection of minor Christian holy days consolidated into one day, Great Prayer Day was initially created to be a day of prayer and fasting when it was officially made a holiday in 1686, but in modern times, it’s more commonly associated with hot wheat buns known as varme hveder.

In earlier times, church bells would announce the start of Great Prayer Day and all work and commerce — including baking — were suspended until the holiday was over. In addition to fasting, Danes were urged to abstain from any “worldly vanity” such as gambling and traveling.


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