Those who plan to spend Easter in Hungary will be treated to holiday markets, ancient rituals, and modern traditions like egg hunting and eating a smoked ham. With Catholicism being the primary religion of Hungary, many locals tend to spend part of the holy day at church and with family. However, there are some public gatherings to keep people entertained. Budapest, for instance, holds the Spring Festival, a two-week event that welcomes the new season with concerts, performances, classes, and an annual market. Villages throughout Hungary celebrate Easter according to their own traditions, some hosting their own festivals as well.
Easter Traditions in Hungary
The Hungarian Easter tradition of “sprinkling” dates back to pagan times. It can take the form of dousing another person—a woman, usually—with water or sprinkling her hair with perfume, typically as part of a ceremony (in other words: Don't go throwing water on people in the streets). Sprinkling signifies fertility and cleansing rites. Similarly, there's the archaic, now-defunct ritual of "whipping," where boys would whack girls with switches, also for fertility.
Today, rather than sprinkling and whipping, Easter looks more like bunnies, braided bread, and colorful eggs. The children of Hungary often receive Easter baskets as gifts and hunt for eggs, too.
Easter is a two-day event in Hungary, but some families celebrate throughout the entire week. Palm Sunday, also called Flower Sunday, kicks off the festivities with a feast commemorating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Good Friday, the following week, is a national holiday commemorating the crucifixion. Hungarians use this day to clean their houses and decorate eggs in advance of the big event.
On Easter Saturday, baskets are taken to church to be blessed. Then, they're given to the children on Sunday, when the Lenten fast is at last broken with a feast of meats, breads, and hard-boiled eggs. Sprinkling or dousing would traditionally take place on Easter Monday, which is also a public holiday in Hungary.
Elaborate Egg Decorating
Easter egg decorating is one old tradition that Hungarians still participate in. You'll find them decorated with Hungarian motifs, including those that mimic Hungarian embroidery in ornate floral designs. Simple, homemade eggs may instead be dyed, bearing the imprint of a leaf. Dark red Easter eggs, sometimes with a white design, recall the spilling of Christ's blood.
Easter is the perfect excuse for Hungarians with steady hands to show off their "egg shoeing" skills. This is an old decorating technique—said to have originated in a village of blacksmiths—in which a metal horseshoe is affixed to the blown egg. Some of these eggs will appear in ceramic or wooden form, though decorating real eggshells using traditional patterns and techniques may also be found.
The Easter Feast
The Hungarian Easter meal is hearty. Eggs and ham are staples and horseradish is a feature. Often times, Easter spreads will include lamb (in the form of goulash or paprikash, which is basically goulash but with meat instead of potatoes).
And it wouldn't be complete without the sweet braided bread known as kalacs. This holiday mainstay, made with sour cream and a jam filling, forms a circle and may also play a role in other seasonal feasts, such as Christmas.
Easter in Budapest
Being the capital of Hungary, Budapest is bound to hold the most Easter happenings in the country. The annual Easter market on Vorosmarty Square, for example, is an excellent venue for finding handmade crafts and seasonal decorations while snacking on delicious Hungarian treats while listening to live music. A similar Easter market is held at the Museum of Ethnography.
Then there's the annual Spring Festival. It's not an Easter event specifically, but it's Easter-y in that it will feature a decorated egg exhibit in 2020 (April 7 at 6 p.m.). Above all, the Spring Festival is a two-week celebration of the arts. There are concerts, exhibitions, dance productions, and the like.
But while Budapest is the epicenter of Easter celebrations, you don't have to limit yourself to the bustling city to seek out Hungarian traditions this time of year. Certain villages are known for their Easter celebrations, including Mezőkövesd, famous for its Matyo folk art.