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Denmark abolishes public holiday to boost defense spending

Thousands of protesters gathered in front of parliament earlier this month to oppose a bill scrapping one of the country's public holidays

Thousands of protesters gathered in front of parliament earlier this month to oppose a bill scrapping one of the country's public holidays

People in Denmark will no longer get a long weekend off for "Great Prayer Day" late in the spring starting next year, after lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday scrapping it as a public holiday.

The move comes as Denmark's newly-formed government seeks to implement reforms aimed at improving the country's welfare model, and as it tries to reach its NATO defense spending targets.

Why did they abolish the holiday?

The controversial bill passed on Tuesday with 95 votes in favor in Denmark's 179-seat parliament following hours of debate.

"Great Prayer Day" will stop being a public holiday in 2024. Shops and other businesses as well as public institutions will remain open.

The Danish government argues the move will add around 3 billion Danish kroner (€403 million; $427 million) to public coffers, reported public broadcaster DR. The money would be generated by people working an additional 7.4 hours and paying taxes on their income.

The goal is to use the money to raise the country's defense spending to bring it in line with NATO's target of 2% of GDP.

The Danish government has also moved up the timeline in reaching the goal, pushing to reach the target by 2030 instead of 2033 — especially in light of Russia's war on Ukraine.

"I don't think it's a problem to have to work an extra day," Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in January when presenting the bill. "We are facing enormous expenditures for defense and security, health care, psychiatry and the green transition."

Unions, church leaders and opposition lawmakers pushed back against the move. Some economists have also questioned the government's plans.

Earlier this month, 50,000 protesters gathered outside parliament in Copenhagen to oppose axing the public holiday.

What is 'Great Prayer Day'?

"Great Prayer Day" is a Christian religious holiday that has been observed since the 17th century in Denmark.

The holiday falls on the fourth Friday after Easter and was initially created to consolidate several minor Christian holidays.

People in Denmark continue to mark the holiday by eating a traditional bread on the day that was purchased a day prior, as bakeries are closed.

Prior to Tuesday's vote, Denmark observed 10 national holidays — some of which fall on the weekend rather than in the week. The figure is on-par with the number of public holidays observed by Sweden and Norway.

Germany observes nine public holidays nationally, but depending on the state, there can be up to 13 public holidays that are observed.

rs/msh (Reuters, dpa)