We barely recovered from the Christmas and New Year’s feasts but here comes Epiphany which marks the start of the carnival season in Hungary. According to our traditions this is the time when we drive away winter, and welcome spring on Palm Sunday. Let’s see some Hungarian customs!

In the Catholic calendar the carnival season falls between Epiphany (or twelfth-night) and Ash Wednesday. On the 6th of January, priests bless the water and incense which they later use to baptize children. Formerly, people also used to give holy water to the animals so that they would be in good health throughout the whole year. They also sprinkled holy water on themselves to avoid diseases. In some places they also sprinkled the soil to bless the house. Another typical folkway is weather forecasting, for instance: if it snows, spring will come early or if it rains, spring will also be rainy.

The carnival season is all about finding Mr./Mrs. Right at the balls and mocking the rules. This is where wearing masks comes from because it ensured anonymity and unrestrained jollity. All social classes organised their own balls. Girls gave posies to the guys they fancied and if the guy also liked the girl, then he put the posy on his hat. If someone was left without a pair, then they were teased with spinster jokes.

The days of the actual carnival are the last three days: quinquagesima Sunday, blue Monday and shrove Tuesday. These days are called “the tail” of the carnival. The Thursday after Ash Wednesday is special because they suspended the fast to eat the carnival left-overs that day. It is called gluttonous Thursday. One thing that was always on the table of Hungarians during the carnival season is doughnut.

The carnival season was the time to drive away winter with noisy razzle-dazzle. It was believed that on the last days of winter the Sun weakened and bad ghosts came to life. They tried to dismiss them with noise, marry-making and by burning a witch figure. One of the most typical Hungarian feasts is the ‘Busó festival of Mohács’.

Another celebrated day to foretell the harvest is the 22nd of January which is the day of Vince. It is especially important for viticulturists; sunny weather on Vince-day promises good harvest while gloomy weather means bad harvest.

The 2nd of February is woodchuck day which is believed to be perfect for forecasting the weather. If the bear comes out of its cave and finds that the weather is mild, it goes back because the remaining part of winter will be cold. If the bear finds that the weather is very cold, then winter will soon be over. The 3rd of February is the day of Saint Blaise (Balázs): the day to bless candles and apples to use them later when children have a sore throat. And lastly, the height of the carnival, ‘big procession’ is held on quinquagesima Sunday. The whole village goes to the main square to watch the lightning of a big stake and dance around it.

Copy editor: bm

Source: Daily News Hungary

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