National Holidays

‘Notable days’ is a Hungarian expression for major holidays, indicated in red in the Hungarian calendar. Many of them are part of the Christian ecclesiastical year, a line of holidays from Christmas through Easter to Pentecost. Christian denominations commemorate other church holidays as well (Ascension Day, All Saints Day, Day of Reformation etc.). The beginning and end of field work, as well as the various stages of the herdsman’s work all had their own ‘notable days’ (grain harvest and grape harvest, the day livestock was herded out to pasture for the summer, etc.), and families celebrated their own holidays, such as name-days, birthdays, Christening days, wedding anniversaries. Towards the end of the 19th century international secular holidays were also introduced. This is how May 1 (Labor Day in Europe) and March 8, Women’s Day found their way into the calendar.

The feast days of saints belong to the oldest group of traditions in Christian countries. In Hungary, due to the significance of the cult of the Virgin Mary, the most important days associated with her were celebrated, primarily August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. National holidays are the ‘notable days’ of a given nation. Though somewhat of a simplification, we could even say that similar to the Christian ecclesiastical year there is a type of national calendar as well.

The feast days of saints were always important to the Catholic congregation. The oldest and most significant Hungarian national holiday is August 20, Saint István’s day. The holiday, dedicated to Hungary’s first king, has always been significant in that it expresses identification with the whole of the country, the homeland. ‘Where are you King István, Hungarians await you!’ declares the ancient folksong. Pilgrimages and the reverence of the Holy Right (St. István’s relic, his mummified right hand) has always been a commemoration of the king who founded the state, in which religious and patriotic feelings could be expressed simultaneously. An important chapter in the history of the modern nation is the Baroque era, when saints of the House of Árpád were greatly respected, whose cult was connection to the past. It called to mind the unity and independence of the Kingdom of Hungary at a time when Hungary was a part of the Austrian Empire.

Two major national holidays bring to mind the holiday created in France after the French Revolution (July 14, Bastille Day) as they both also commemorate a revolution: March 15 and October 23. On March 15, 1848, a day designated by the people as ‘Petőfi’s Day’, the bloodless revolution won on the streets of Pest becoming the overture to an outstanding chain of events in Hungarian history. This day can rightfully be considered the birthday of the modern democratic nation, civil Hungary.

October 6 is considered a national day of mourning, for it was on this day in 1849 that Austrian military leadership had thirteen Hungarian generals, who participated in the fight for independence, executed in the town of Arad. The same day the Hungarian prime minister Count Lajos Batthyány was also executed in Pest. On this day Hungarians remember the martyrs of Arad and other martyrs of Hungarian history.

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