Customs in Hungary

Here are some of the main holiday customs  practiced here in Hungary !

Names Days

Hungarians celebrate both birthdays and something called a "names day" which is a holiday to do with a person's name. The origin of this custom is related to the Catholic Saints who are thought to defend people with the same first name. In Hungary there is an official list of names that Hungarian parents must choose from when naming a baby, and they assign each name to one or more days in the calendar. Namedays are celebrated by giving cards or gifts, or drinking toasts to the person, perhaps even a party.

Easter Customs


In Hungary, Easter is a 2 day holiday. On Easter Monday, traditionally there was a custom of "sprinkling." This custom goes back a very long time. Where it is practiced, on Easter Monday boys and men visit all the women they know. Boys in groups, single men, or fathers with sons will leave early in the morning and are out all day long. They greet girls or women at their gates with some kind of poem (usually humorous) and then sprinkle the girls/women with perfume. The girls/women are then expected to provide them with food and drink (palinka/schnapps if they are adults) and a decorated Easter egg. (women would be preparing those the day or two ahead)and these days, boys prefer money. In earlier times, women had water poured on them, being dragged to the well and water dumped on them from a pail. Probably this custom had pagan origins and fertility rituals. Where it is still practised, by the end of the day the men are drunk and the women badly need a bath to get rid of all the cheap perfume! (This custom is starting to die out and Jer is glad of that, as she finds it very annoying not to be able to go out or answer the door on that day!)

Traditionally there have often been small fairs, with rides and food and entertainment at Easter as well.


village girl having water thrown on her on Easter Monday

Ferris wheel at Easter in Székely-land circa 1906


Egg Painting

There are many methods of painting eggs for Easter in Hungary and all of them are very interesting and beautiful in their way. The simplest method is to cook the egg enveloped inside a leaf, in dye bath and the covered part stays white and shows the leaf pattern. Liquid dye can be made from onion skin, wild pear, green walnuts or other natural dyes. Sometimes women scribe the eggs. They will draw lovely folks patterns on the egg in melted wax and then dip them in the dye bath to show the pattern. The most beautiful eggs are the ones painted by hand in many different colors in traditional folks patterns. (Jer loves to do this kind of painting herself so this is a custom she really appreciates!)



              left, examples of "extreme Easter egg art" : the left one is egg-shoe-ing (done with tiny nails!) and the right one is carved!

May Day

The origins of May Day are pagan in origin, but for many years in all of Europe (indeed throughout much of the world) it is celebrated as "Labour Day" and there are fairs and sometimes parades.

The parade for May Day was a very big thing in the Soviet times and folks were often pretty much forced to march in them, and the traditional celebrations were not encouraged. 


These two pictures were
 taken sometime around
 1980, and Józsi's dad is
 leading  kids from his
 swim team in the May
Day parade

Did you ever wonder what the Soviet anthem sounds like? If so, you can click here to hear it sung by the Red Army Chorus!    (wav 830 Kb)

Here are 3 Russian folksongs often heard at that same time ,
 in midi format:

*Kalinka*    (38Kb)

*Katjusha*   (12Kb)    ...our alarm clock plays this tune!

*Ojpolnap * (19Kb)

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, fairs for having fun are popular. At these fairs you can often still see such things as puppet shows and players performing shows on stilts that would have looked and sounded pretty much the same in the middle ages! This is something that Jer is always fascinated to see...these "windows on the past".  We took the pictures below at one of these May Day fairs.



left, the puppet stage where they perform the Magyar version of "Punch and Judy" who are at least 1,000 years old. (no wonder those puppets are so ugly! ) Another window on the past.


All Saints Day

November 1 is All Saints Day, which is a very old European tradition  (It is no longer practiced in many countries, or perhaps only in rural areas.) Families go to the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and bring flowers, wreaths and/or candles to lay upon the graves. The older type grave markers were posts carved out of wood but the newer ones are somewhat like New Orleans style stone boxes above ground. This might sound strange or creepy, but it really is a moving experience to be there with all the twinkling lights and the people who have  to pay respects to family members.

normal day

"All Saints night"


Christmas season starts in Hungary with Advent, and advent wreaths are very often seen. December 6th is called "Mikulás" (pronounced "Me-koo-losh"). He is the Hungarian version of St. Nicholas or Santa and he visits children in much the same way. It is called "Mikulás" because the name day of "Miklós" (the Hungarian version of Nicholas) is December 13. Children put boots in the windows for the same reason as the Christmas stockings are hung in the USA on Christmas Eve. If the child has been good then Mikulás will leave them all sorts of goodies. These may include candies (including chocolate Mikulás or his helpers figures), fruit, nuts and small toys or books. If the child was bad, they get either coal, or a switch (usually with a devil figure attached to show a beating is needed). Often children get both since no one is all good or all bad! There is no "Mrs. Mikulás" but he is accompanied by one or two evil devilish-looking boys who are called "krampusz" (pronounced "kromm-poose"). (Ok...picture St. Nick with one or two little demons at his side and that's pretty much how it looks! This sounds creepy but it evidently comes from the ancient custom in Europe of people dressing up in scary costumes to scare away the bad spirits, which is still practiced in many countries, including Hungary, in February) St. Nicholas and his sidekick "Krumpus" are part of the old German and Austrian customs too.

There are also a lot of very old Christmas customs that are now pretty much only practiced in rural areas in small villages, having to to do with the "day of Luca." (pronounced "loo-tsa") December 13th is the name day for the name Luca and on that day people would start to make a chair out of wood, to be finished on the day before Christmas. (they have a saying here that if some project is going really slowly, that it's going "slower than Luca's chair!) If someone is in the Luca chair in church during the mass of Holy Night, supposedly they can see who is a witch. There are poems and songs about this tradition. The day of Luca is also the day of "love predictions." In the evening girls traditionally cast lead in their backyard and the shape the lead took would tell the occupation of their future love.

One of the biggest traditions is the "Bethlehem play" and some days before Christmas boys will go from house to house with a model of the Holy family and perform a short play about the baby Jesus. They often dress in costumes and sing songs as well. The first record of this tradition dates to the 1600s.

the Bethlehem play

Christmas tree or
" Karácsonyfa"

advent wreath

They do put up Christmas trees in Hungary but always on December 24 and not earlier except for in shops, where they are only for decoration. (we do put ours up earlier as the American custom, but often put up another one on Christmas Eve as well!) It's also a "private" holiday here and people don't have "Christmas parties" but celebrate Christmas within the family, opening gifts together on December 24 in the evening. Also, as is the case in  several other Central European countries, the gifts are not brought by "Santa" but by the Christ Child/Baby Jesus. Christmas is a 2 day holiday here, like Easter, and it's mostly spent visiting family members or close friends. (also eating, and drinking the inevitable wine and/or palinka)



In February is a holiday Hungarians call "farsang" (pronounced "far-shung". This is a very old holiday, dating from pagan times, which is still practiced in a number of central European countries. Folks wore scary masks and carried instruments which made very loud noises such as bells and drums and marched through the streets  to "scare the evil spirits away", and the children got candy.  This kind of thing now takes place mostly in villages. In cities, what they usually do is a "masquerade party" for the kids at someone's house or at school, where they go with their parents and have something that resembles a Halloween party in the USA.  (This holiday is called 'Fastnacht" or "Fasching"  in Austria and Germany, and is now more like Carnival in being celebrated as a chance to party and have fun before Lent.)


"farsang" being celebrated in villages