Peace Light of Bethlehem arrives in Czech Republic and will be distributed countrywide by Scouts

Photo: ČTK/Šálek Václav

For 30 years now, the Czech Scouts have been distributing the Peace Light of Bethlehem across the Czech Republic. The fire, which was lit in the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ, has been carried across Europe ahead of every Christmas period since the 1980s. This year the handover had to take place on the border with Austria due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Photo: ČTK/Šálek Václav

Czech scouts entrusted to carry the light met with their Austrian counterparts on the border crossing between the two countries on Sunday to light their own candles from the flame.

The handover normally takes place in Vienna, but this year’s coronavirus restrictions meant that it had to take place on the border. Ironically, in the same way as it was done in 1990, when the Czech Scouts took on the tradition.

That was a year after it was brought to Czechoslovakia for the first time, during the Velvet Revolution, says Scouts spokeswoman Barbora Trojak.

“It first came to Czechoslovakia in 1989. Back then, it was brought by Exile Scouts from Austria and placed under the statue of Saint Wenceslas [on Wenceslas Square] in Prague.”

Photo: ČTK/Šálek Václav

During Sunday’s handover, the destination was not Prague, but the bishopric of Brno, where Ms Trojak says assigned Scouts will light their candles with the sacred fire. This will then be carried to light other candles across the country.

“Scout volunteers will spread it this Saturday, December 19, in 64 different trains. Then, local volunteers will join in and spread it not just to churches, but also town councils, squares, libraries and many other places.

“This year, due to the coronavirus situation we are making sure the lightings are done outside, to maintain safety measures.”

The tradition of carrying the light from Bethlehem stretches back to the First Crusade, when a Florentine crusader swore that he would bring back a piece of the eternal flame that is kept at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Legend says that several years later, just ahead of Christmas, a ragtag group of men arrived led by one who held a candle. The men said that they had kept the flame going at all times while traveling through hard weather on land and sea.

Photo: ČTK/Šálek Václav

The idea was resurrected by the Austrian public broadcaster ORF in 1986. It saw a child, accompanied by a small television team, travel to Bethlehem and bring back a flame lit in the Bethlehem church as part of a charity project for blind children.

The tradition has been kept ever since with the International Scouting movement helping to then distribute the flame to more than 30 European countries as well as to the United States, Canada and Mexico. Scouts from the former Eastern Bloc have taken part in the tradition since the fall of the Iron Curtain.