Cultural traditions and folklore in Hungary

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If you want to be a good expat, learning about Hungary’s cultural quirks and traditions is a great way to ingratiate yourself with your new neighbors.

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If you want to be a good expat, learning about Hungary’s cultural quirks and traditions is a great way to ingratiate yourself with your new neighbors. Hungarians are proud people with a long, storied history and interesting folklore that is still widely observed to this day.

Here are a few things you might come across:

Water sprinkling at Easter in Hungary

Hungary is home to one the weirder Easter traditions of water sprinkling. In times gone by water was believed to have cleansing and fertility boosting powers and men would roam the village on Easter Monday pouring cold buckets of water over womens heads or even dragging them to the village pond for an involuntary swim.

Nowadays things have changed slightly and men will show up at the houses of their friends or relatives and read a short, usually silly poem before sprinkling them with a few drops of water or perfume. Being the woman that gets the most sprinkles is a high coveted honour.

Name days and birthdays in Hungary

The concept of name days will probably be quite unfamiliar to any expats coming in from the West. Essentially it’s a day of celebration to honour your name. It works because Hungary still requires parents to pick the name of their newborn from a government authorised list.

How do people celebrate? Like most things in Hungary is a great excuse for some palinka with friends and you might even send a present or a small bunch of flowers if you’re close.

You can find out when your name day is here.

Hungarian Santa Clause

Hungary has it’s own version of Santa Claus called Szent Mikulás (St. Nicholas) and on the night of the 5th of December kids eagerly put out their boots hoping for a visit. When he does visit he brings with him a book listing all the children's good and bad deeds along with one two helpers known as krampusz. If a child has indeed been quite well behaved they can expect to wake up and find the boot filled with treats such as candies, tangerines, walnuts, apples, dates and chocolate.

Weddings Traditions in Hungary

Traditional Hungarian weddings are a real ode to folklore and can be very entertaining for foreigners. In small villages where the whole community may know the couple, proceedings might start with a procession through the village. Next comes a civil ceremony (required by law) and then a further service in a church.

At the wedding party, things get interesting. At some point in the night, the bride will be ‘kidnapped’ and the groom will need to use all his bartering and negotiation skills and prove he’s worthy to have her returned. After this, there is the bridal dance which sees the men in the room line up for a dance, but only once they’ve thrown some money into a bowl held by either the bride’s father or the best man, a gift for the new couple.

Hungarian weddings run late and guests can expect folk dancing performances and music all night and a ‘midnight breakfast’ of stuffed cabbage is often served to keep everyone’s energy levels up. Around this time you’ll also probably notice that the bride has changed from her white dress into a red one. This is supposed to symbolise the start her new life as a married woman.

Revolutions in Hungary

On March 15th 1848, poet Sándor Petőfi stood on the steps of the National Museum and recited the Nemzeti Dal (National Song) poem which included the words “Rise up Magyar the country calls”.

This marked the start of a revolution against the Habsburg rule and today its one of the most celebrated national holidays in Hungary. After flag raising at Kossuth tér, celebrations focus around the museum with readings of Petőfi’s poem and speeches from the prime minister. Finally hussars in traditional uniform march to Buda Castle.

Elsewhere in the city, cultural events, talks, craft workshops and parties are organised and people wear cockades bearing the national colours. You can also visit the Parliament for free and view the Holy Crown and the Crown Jewels.