This weekend, two holidays celebrate afterworld beings on back-to-back days – Halloween on October 31st and All Saints’ Day on November 1st – but Hungarians observe these occasions in drastically different ways, and only one of them is an established tradition here. While the costumes, candy, and lighthearted parties of October 31st comprise a relatively new phenomenon in Hungary, Magyars have long considered November 1st as a hallowed annual event to solemnly honor their deceased ancestors… and the opposing spirits of these consecutive holidays don’t really coexist in peace.
Like so many conflicts in Hungary, the reasons behind this spooky schism are rooted in history. Similarly to many countries in Central Europe and around the world, Hungary observes November 1st as a national holiday that dates back centuries, featuring reverent customs to memorialize the deceased based on Roman Catholic traditions. Every year on All Saints’ Day, Magyar families put on their best black suits and dresses to make a pilgrimage to the cemeteries where their late relatives are buried, placing flowers and candles on their graves in respectful tribute to their memory. While this annual ritual is not the merriest occasion on the Hungarian calendar, it is a deeply ingrained custom here that transcends generations.
On the other hand, Halloween is a novelty in Hungary – less than two decades ago, this ghoulish celebration of Celtic origins was virtually unheard of here, and certainly not celebrated with costumes and trick-or-treating; it was only about ten years ago when the occasional jack-o’-lantern could be spotted around Budapest, and while the funnily frightful goings-on of October 31st are now fairly common in the capital city (especially with theme parties at varied nightclubs), Halloween is still regarded with outright contempt by many Magyars nationwide, especially since it immediately precedes the reverential proceedings of All Saints’ Day.
Interestingly, Hungarians have another historical reason to disregard the specter of Halloween – by and large, Magyars don’t believe in ghosts, witches, and other supernatural forces, mostly thanks to the legacy of Hungarian King Coloman the Learned, crowned way back in 1096. As one of Europe’s most educated monarchs of the Middle Ages, Colomon was appalled by the widespread fear of witches and the practice of burning suspected sorceresses at the stake – and so he made an official proclamation that there is no such thing as dark magic or demonic spirits, and his subjects obediently stopped believing in such paranormal presences, a progressive perspective that continues to this day. Hence, the concept of celebrating and mimicking the undead on Halloween strikes many Magyars as insane, if not sacrilegious to the consecrated traditions of All Saint’s Day immediately afterwards.
Nonetheless, the fun-loving spirit of Halloween is an undeniably appealing reason to dress up and rock out, and so there are plenty of nightspots in Budapest where this foreign holiday will be celebrated with gusto, especially as October 31st falls on a Saturday this year; tomorrow We Love Budapest will post an in-depth roundup article about various Halloween parties citywide. However, if you invite a Hungarian friend to join these frightening festivities and they decline because of familial obligations to visit their expired ancestors the next day, don’t try to convince them to come join the Halloween party anyway – while All Saints’ Day is not necessarily a sad occasion for most Magyars, it can be a truly dreadful event when observed with a wicked hangover.