When there is a popular holiday, we usually engage into a cultural exchange - writing in Hungarian about how the given holiday is celebrated in Ireland and we write an article in English about how people celebrate the mentioned holiday in Hungary. This English article is about Easter traditions in Hungary.
Easter celebration in Hungary starts with Palm Sunday a week before Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday was the celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. From the 6th century on, people held processions carrying around palm leaves - hence the name, Palm Sunday. In Hungary, instead of palm leaves people carry around twigs of pussy willow. These twigs are consecrated and people use them against curses, for curing, and to avert thunderstorm and lightning. However, these twigs have to be kept outside the house as they attract flies and fleas. People believed that once taken inside the house the twigs cannot keep curses away any more. The best way people can use the them is planting them into the soil of their gardens.
Another popular tradition around Easter is called kiszehajtás. This is a tradition where girls dress up a puppet made of hay as a kimmer, then carry it around the village and eventually either burn it or throw it into the water. As the kisze puppet impersonates sickness, the purpose of this tradition is to drive away and prevent sickness from coming back.
After getting rid of the kisze girls carry around a twig decorated with ribbons and eggs. This is called villőzés. While kiszehajtás stands for driving away winter, villőzés means inviting spring in.
The next important day is Good Thursday. People usually eat something green like spinach for good luck on this day, remembering Christ’s last dinner. Church bells are silent on this day, they “go to Rome” and come back only the day after Good Friday.
At the church believers can have their feet washed. Then they undress the altar and leave only the candlesticks and the cross there covered with a sheet in order to symbolise the suffering of Jesus.
Jesus died on this day. This is the time for lent and bereavement, that is why it is prohibited to do farm work. Women must not bake bread or wash clothes either. Water, however, has magical powers on Good Friday. People believe that taking a bath in the river before sunrise will bring good health. Some people also wash their cattle or have them drink water before sunrise.
At church people walk the 14 stations of Christ’s procession to the cross.
People already prepare for the resurrection of Jesus on this day. The 40-day-lent ends on Good Saturday. Church bells start ringing again and people run out to the gardens in jubilation to hear them again. They also shake the bad fruit off the trees, so that these trees can bring new, healthy ones instead. People consecrate fire as well. In the churches the priests light the pussy willow twigs gathered from the previous year and use them as candles. In the evening people usually make bonfires and gather around them, already in a celebratory mood. Some of them make a loud noise. They keep the ash from the fire for healing or disperse it on the fields for good yield.
This is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. People can eat meat again. The Hungarian name of Easter (Húsvét) also comes from the word meat (hús). On this day people put a red egg into their bathwater in order to bring good health for the whole year. Priests consecrate bread, eggs and ham which believers have to eat until the last bite in order to keep away misfortune. People usually take a walk around the border of their fields on this day.
Work is prohibited on this day too. Women must not sew or sweep. Animals are kept inside this day as well, however, some dance is already permitted.
This is the day of the so-called Easter sprinkle. Boys and men usually pour a bucket of water on girls and women in the belief of keeping them fresh and fertile. We can trace back the origins of the Easter sprinkle to baptism itself, however, according to a legend Jews wanted to silence those women who announced the resurrection of Jesus by pouring water on them.
In many places boys and men use cheap patschouli instead of water, which they pour on girls' hair. However, this is worse, as the smell might keep on for a few days and a hairwash only makes it more intensive. Krasnaya Moskva (Red Moscow) from the Soviet Union was a popular patchouli among boys and men back in the era of Socialism.
Girls and women reward Easter sprinklers with red eggs and some food and drink. The colour red symbolises new life, love and the blood of Jesus.
On this day it is the girls’ turn to reward boys and men with some Easter sprinkle.
On the Sunday after Easter young girls send a big plate laden with bread, eggs and drinks to their girl friends as a gesture to strengthen their friendship and to provide support until their friends are getting married. This plate is called komatál or mátkatál in Hungarian. Once a girl receives one, she has to send an even bigger one back. People keep this tradition only in some parts of Transdanubia and the Palóc region now.
Symbols of Easter
Eggs are the most ancient symbols of rebirth and fertility. They are in connection with birth, creation and renewal. Among Christians they became the symbol of resurrection: Christ broke the rocks closing down his grave in a similar way a bird breaks the eggshell while hatching.
The lamb itself symbolises Jesus. Jesus died a death similar to that of a paschal lamb for humankind. Thus, he is called God’s lamb.
This symbol comes from Germany. It became widespread in Hungary during the 19th century. According to a legend Ostara, a German goddess had a bird which laid colourful eggs. This bird turned into a bunny to entertain children. According to another legend Ostara herself changed the bird into a bunny in anger. The English and German names, Easter and Oster come from the name of this German goddess.