(First published on We Love Budapest, 3 April 2015)
Easter is a Christian tradition that celebrates Jesus rising from the dead. It's a roving event that follows the Lenten fasting period, and this year the Easter period is from 3 April, which is Good Friday, to 6 April, which is Easter Monday. In Hungary the various celebrations and traditions have links to Christian traditions, pagan rituals and modern chocolatey fun!
On Easter Monday, this tradition called "locsolkodás" involves boys and men reciting a poem to women and girls and then "sprinkling" them with perfume. In extreme cases this can also be achieved with a bucket of cold water! Originally it was young women of marriage-age who would be the victims but now the act (which has links to earlier pagan fertility rituals) has expanded to women of all ages - even relatives and colleagues. In the past it was a form of courtship and young women would be happy to be "sprinkled" by many potential suitors, nowadays it's something which leaves women smelling of various cheap perfumes by day's end.
While it doesn't quite seem like a fair trade, in return for each "sprinkling" the ladies give the men chocolate Easter eggs, specially decorated painted eggs, home made cakes and/or a shot of pálinka (a potent Hungarian fruit brandy). So on Easter Monday in Hungary boys and men go from house to house visiting family, friends and sometimes colleagues spritzing a little Eau de Cologne on the female's hair, picking up all kinds of treats along the way.
Painted eggs are a prominent Easter tradition in Hungary. Within the Christian tradition eggs were pained red (to symbolise Jesus' blood), but in recent centuries this has changed to eggs being dyed many varied colours. The flower motifs that are often incorporated in the decoration often reflect the embroidery and motifs found on Hungarian traditional folk costumes.
A beautiful technique is used to decorated the egg. Wax is used to draw the design on the egg, the egg is then dyed, then the egg is slightly warmed so the wax melts off, leaving the white pattern on the otherwise coloured egg. Before the whole process the eggs are either hardboiled or the contents of the egg is blown out of the egg via a small pinhole at the top and bottom so that the decorative items last without rotting.
An alternative method is to dye the eggs a deeper brown colour by placing them in water coloured by onion skins. Then the pattern is scratched into the surface.
The Easter Bunny
Of course in modern Hungary the Easter Bunny brings chocolate eggs for young children and these are sometimes hidden in the house or garden and can be found after an extensive Easter Egg Hunt. This usually takes place on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday in Hungary.
So how do you say Happy Easter in Hungarian? It's "kellemes húsvéti ünnepeket!" Say what!? Ok, it's pronounced: cal-am-ash hoosh-veh-tee oon-nap-ak-at.
For those following Christian traditions, on Good Friday it's customary to eat fish, while on Easter Sunday meat dishes are eaten - particularly exciting if you have been fasting for Lent. Typically Hungarians eat ham served with horseradish and boiled eggs on Easter Sunday while "kalács" (a kind of braided Milk Loaf) is also served at Easter in Hungary. Of course chocolate Easter eggs are also a huge part of the Easter diet, although this is a more modern element of the celebration.
Events in regional Hungary
Easter at Hollókő
All Easter weekend thousands head to the village of Hollókő for their famous Easter celebrations. Experience a traditional village Easter and the associated folk traditions. You can get there by bus from Puskás Ferenc Stadion, the bus leaves at 8am and returns at 4pm, the ride is 2 hours long. You could also get a train to Pásztó from where a local bus goes to the village. You could also drive (about a 90 minute trip), you can park in the areas surrounding the village, as marked. Details here (in Hungarian).
Matyó Easter at Mezőkövesd
The city of Mezőkövesd from where the Matyó style of traditional dress originates, also has a famous Easter celebration. On both Easter Sunday and Monday they have a range of music, culinary and dance programs that focus on Hungarian Easter traditions. Details here (in Hungarian).
Family Easter at Szépasszony Valley
In the valley of the "pretty lady," on Easter Sunday there'll be a day long easter fair from 10am - 3pm followed by a night-time street party. Hungarian traditions plus fun for the whole family. Details here (in Hungarian).
Not far from Budapest, but still a nice day trip out of town is the "Skanzen" at Szentendre. The open-air museum of sorts introduces the traditions of the various parts of Hungary, and other regions where a great number of Hungarians live. At Easter they have special programs that introduce the specific Easter traditions of these various regions. It's on 5-6 April from 9 am to 6pm. Really get to know this regions's Easter celebrations via a range of hands-on workshops, activities, programs and shows. Details here.
As we mentioned Easter Sunday and Monday are public holidays in Hungary, so on Monday most shops will be closed and generally public transport will run less frequently (largely to a Sunday timetable). Cafes, restaurants and some convenience stores will be open according to their usual opening hours on both of these days. Unlike in some other countries Good Friday is not a public holiday in Hungary, so it's business as usual.