Quick Facts and Stats
- Summary: Festival established by the UN to try to promote World Peace and reduce conflict.
- 2019 Date: 21st September
- Celebrated by: Globally, Humanists
- Linked Holidays: Human Rights Day, International Youth Day
Background and Theological Significance
The International Day of Peace is the most modern Festival we have covered in this series. It is also interesting in that it is a top-down celebration, celebrations for it did not occur at a grass-roots level and then become codified and used by the governors or priesthood of a larger society. Instead the people at the top, in this case the UN, unanimously decided to name the 21st of September as the International Day of Peace.
The theology that informs this festival is humanist and globalist. It assumes a common humanity intrinsically valuable and in communion with itself other spread across the world. The theology of this position is one that in some way divinises humanity as a whole, into something that if only freed from ignorance and violence, could create a more perfect world. Seeing this as a theological position, and by extension seeing the International Day of Peace as a festival, is a step not usually taken by observers.
These factors taken together: it being a top-down celebration that assumes a global society rather than growing from one that already exists, make this festival widely known but not necessarily marked by specific rituals or actions. This obviously limits the extent to which the festival can capture the imagination of the people of the world. As a result, a key weakness is that this festival, while claiming to represent the people of the world, is ignored by most of them.
However, the above factors are also the cause of a real strength of the festival, one that goes some way to countering the above problem. The festival is in itself aspirational. It fully recognizes that it is fighting for a world that is ‘not-yet’. Rather than most theologies that commemorate their historical/mythological foundation, globalist Humanism is very much future orientated. Thus there are no actions or events to ritualise, and no one is forced to join in the celebration. Indeed as the imagined society is humanity itself, there is no barrier on entering and taking part in the festivities in whatever way is preferred. The aspirational message of ‘Peace One Day’ also is one that is shared by all global theologies as valuable. Making it easy to collaborate on the celebrations. This flexibility leaves room to grow and adapt that are sometimes unavailable to other festivals.
The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by unanimous United Nations resolution 36/37. It has since been updated in 2001, when the date was fixed as September 21st each year. The UN’s General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.”
The festival has grown over the years, thanks to official UN and other governmental support alongside the incorporation of many non-governmental actors and grassroots movements.
Since 2009, the festival has been marked by a specific cause. From Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Education, Reconciliation, and Democracy. This year’s International Peace Day, 2019, is dedicated to Climate Peace.
The day has been used in this way to raise awareness and focus on a specific topic. Highlighting the need for the people of the world to come together and tackle the biggest issues facing us.
As mentioned previously, the fact that this festival is very much a top-down movement means that it lacks any set rituals that are connected to it. It is much more focused on education and generally ‘raising awareness’ of a particular issue loosely connected to increasing peace and reducing conflict.
The aim of the festival is to encourage a cessation of conflict for this one day. Since 2005 it has been encouraged for all parties around the world to declare a ceasefire to mark the day.
There are also various ways that it is encouraged for people to celebrate or mark the day. More common practices include having a moment of silence, planting trees. Larger groups also often host parties art exhibitions or other events.
The festival continues to grow and adapt. The main thing holding it back remains the lack of a universally imaged human community. But, this is one of the aims of the festival, and as participation continues to grow, it is likely that the festival will take on more particularized, meaningful rituals and forms as it shapes how people imagine themselves and their conflicts around the world.