Hungary has a long and tumultuous history. The region began as part of the Roman Empire until the empire’s fall in the 4th century. Over the next five hundred years, it was controlled by the Hun, various European entities, was part of Croatia, and was controlled by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Once freed from the Turks, rulers continued to battle for power and control of the land.
Finally, in the mid-19th century, the Austria-Hungary Empire was formed, and emperor Franz-Joseph was crowned king. The empire’s army was a critical player during both World Wars; however, the country was on the losing side both times, falling into desolation. The neighboring Soviets took advantage of the region's weakness and took power.
Hungary remained part of the Soviet empire until 1989, and their first free elections took place in 1990. Yet, despite or perhaps because of the number of powers controlling Hungary throughout history, its traditions are rich and varied.
Traditional Hungarian Dress Credit harianti
Hungarian traditions reflect not only the empires they’ve been a part of but also the countries surrounding it. Hungary sits in the middle of Eastern Europe and shares a border with seven different countries!
As an introduction to Hungarian culture, we’ve compiled a list of five long-standing traditions and their history. Take some time with your family to delve into these traditions, and if you’re feeling adventurous, try them out together!
Credit Travels Finders
Busójárás is a festival in southern Hungary celebrated by the Šokci population of Mohács. The festival is based on a cultural tradition of chasing winter away and welcoming spring. The origins of this tradition started with the native Hungarian people chasing the Turks out of their land.
The story is that the natives would dress in masks and hide in swamps, then make loud noises to scare away Turkish soldiers who were highly superstitious.
Credit Fenes Tomas
Busós are the main character and the holiday literally means Busó-walking. Busó is a fearsome character who wears a large mask and carries a cowbell or wooden clapper.
Other characters in the charade include the Szépbusók, girls wearing veils who guide the Busó, and Jankeles dressed in rags whose job is to keep the road clear for the Busó to travel.
Check out this video to get a glimpse of the festival in action!
2. Easter Egg Dying
Dying Easter Eggs isn’t unique to Hungary, but they have their own traditions and style for this familiar tradition. One Hungarian tradition of dying Easter Eggs involves batiking the eggs.
The first step in batiking eggs is hard boiling the number of eggs you wish to dye. Then place a large number of onion skins in a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Next, find clover leaves, parsley leaves, or any small flower leaf that will make a pretty design.
Dampen the leaves or flowers and place them on the egg to create your desired pattern. Next, gently wrap the eggs individually in a stocking piece and place them into the onion peel water. Allow the eggs to sit in the water until they reach the desired level of brown or red.
Credit Top Budapest
The other popular egg dying tradition is egg writing or írókázás. You need a special egg writing tool and beeswax to do egg writing traditionally. However, if you wish to try this at home, the popular method in the U.S. of using a white crayon to draw on an egg and dipping it in colored dye is one way to partake in this tradition.
3. Luca Day
Luca Day is celebrated on December 13th and marks the country’s winter solstice. It is the longest night of the year and is associated with witches and spells. Before Christianity, it was known as the day of evil, and people believed they needed to protect themselves from things that go bump in the night. The word Luca comes from the Latin word lux.
The most significant Luca Day tradition is carving a Luca chair. Traditionally a Luca chair is carved out of nine pieces of wood and forms a pentagon when completed. The maker would then take the chair to midnight mass and sit on the chair to see who the witches were. Then, to protect themselves from witches, they had to run home, sprinkle poppy seeds behind them, and burn the chair.
4. Matyo Folk Art
Mayto folk art is a style of embroidery and decorative motifs that stems from the Roman Catholic Mayto community in northeastern Hungary. The images are typically floral designs and can be stitched onto clothing and other textiles or decorating ornamental objects.
Even though the Mayto people are famous for these designs, they actually come from Norwegian culture and were adopted in the 18th century.
The Mayto people are believed to be descendants of King Matthias I’s (1443-1490) bodyguards. In 1991 the Mayto community created the Mayto Folk Art Association to pass down and spread awareness of this unique embroidery art. The art is typically completed in sewing circles and groups that promote community cohesion and create financial independence for the women involved.
5. Wedding Dances
Like most cultures, Hungarian weddings have a set of traditions unique to their culture. Some traditions, such as dancing with guests and selecting a Maid of Honor and Best Man, are similar to traditions in the United States.
However, some traditions that differ from our culture include brightly colored wedding gowns, the Best Man being the principal wedding planner, and newlyweds serving the wedding cake to all their guests.
Traditional Hungarian weddings also include a large number of ceremonial songs and traditional dances. It is still common today for a Hungarian couple to include a choir, folk singing, and poetry in their ceremony.
At the reception, specific dances are timed and performed at key points during the evening. For example, one dance is the Newlywed Coin Dance, during which guests toss coins at the new couple. Once the dance is over, the couple collects the coins to keep.
The Candlelit Waltz is performed as the final dance of the evening, The newlyweds stand in the middle, and all the guests circle them holding candles. As the couple dances, they blow out their guests' candles and then, once blowing out their candles, retire for the evening.
Special thanks to L. Elizabeth Forry for this article.