(LifeSiteNews) — Tens of thousands of Danes flooded the streets of Copenhagen earlier this month to protest the potential removal of Denmark’s more than 300-year-old Great Prayer Day, which has been celebrated on the fourth Friday after Easter since 1686.
The nation’s leaders are considering eliminating the holiday in a bid to shore up more finances to fund the war in Ukraine, Reuters reported.
Citizens have voiced strong disapproval of the idea, packing the streets on Sunday, February 5 in what might be the biggest public protest the lightly populated Scandinavian country has seen in a decade.
Labor unions organizing the protest estimated that the event drew 50,000 attendees.
The public protest came after the country’s biggest trade union last month launched a petition to keep the holiday. The petition wound up tallying over 400,000 signatures.
According to Reuters, the proposal to toss out the three-centuries-old holiday first surfaced in December as the “newly formed government” headed by 44-year-old Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen sought ways to “raise tax revenues for higher defence spending in [the] wake of the Ukraine war.”
“Our government, they want to take our national holiday away from us, which we call Big Prayer Day, and we’re not going to take it,” Danish social worker Susanne Both said in a video report of the February 5 rally.
Another protest participant, janitor Cora Andrew Arthe, told Reuters that “the government wants to take a holy day away from us, which we’ve had for over 300 years.”
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The Great Prayer Day, or Store Bededag in Danish, was introduced in 1686 by Bishop Hans Bagger from Roskilde.
Initially established as a penitential day, “all kinds of work and trade were forbidden,” according to the Lutheran Church of Denmark, which also noted that Danes “were expected to fast until the church services were over and to abstain from traveling, playing and gambling as well as from other sorts of ‘worldly vanity.’”
Today, however, “many Danes tend to treat the holiday as just another day off,” The New York Times observed.
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While Denmark is not a staunchly religious country today (fewer than 20% of the country’s 4.3 million Evangelical Lutherans say they’re “very religious”), the move to scrap the holiday has earned backlash not only from the Evangelical Lutheran Church but also nine opposition political parties, trade unions, and about one out every 19 Danish citizens, Euronews pointed out.
“We may not be all that religious, but we are a very traditional people,” Lizette Risgaard, president of the Danish Trade Union Confederation FH, told Euronews.
“I am hopeful that the government will come to its senses and realise that interfering with labor and punishing workers is not how we build a better Denmark,” she said.