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Fun, fancy dress and verse – how Hungarians once celebrated New Year’s Eve

Many will be celebrating the last day of 2020 at home, over a board game or two – but this is not how Hungarians usually spend the wildest night of the year.

Nostalgic images from the communal photo archive Fortepan illustrate the history of New Year’s Eve in Hungary – or szilveszter as it is known here.

This picture was taken halfway through the Great War, on the last day of 1915. Among the locals, you can make out soldiers, a grandfather and grandchild, plenty of booze and a man sipping hot tea – or perhaps punch.

It seems like there was no lack of snow on New Year’s Eve in 1932 – let’s hope that the good-humoured youngsters sitting on each side of this large snowman didn’t catch a cold.

A house party at the home of writer László Németh in 1938, with some of the greatest figures of Hungarian literature. Taken in an apartment on Attila út, the picture shows the Némeths celebrating with Mihály Babits, Sophie Török, Zoltánné Farkas, József Erdélyi and Gyula Illyés.

Also taken in 1938, here you can see a festive crowd enjoying the last hours of the year at Teréz körút 43, in the dome room of the Radisson Blu Béke Hotel, known as the Britannia at the time.

Based on the number of glasses on the table, either three people are missing from the picture, or you can soon figure out the reason behind these gentlemen’s cheery moods. In any case, New Year’s Eve in 1940 was pretty memorable.

This gathering in 1943 wasn’t a simple NYE event, but a costumed party with cowboys, Turkish officers, sailors and Spanish princesses all having a good time despite the war.

Szilveszter was celebrated in 1956, the year of the Hungarian Uprising, too. This picture shows glamorous actors Mária Medgyesi and Zoltán Várkonyi having fun.

Actors Zsuzsa Csala, Cyula Gózon, Hilda Gobbi and Márta Fónay are photographed here at Magyar Rádió’s New Year’s Eve broadcast in 1961. Although they probably recorded it earlier in December, many Hungarians spent the last day of the year listening to this broadcast.

A true Szilveszter street scene with kazoos, a lively crowd, costumes and an actual police officer, in 1967.

An underpass at the intersection of Üllői út and the Grand Boulevard in 1971, broadcasting a New Year’s Eve radio programme. In the middle, you can see folk singers Apollónia Kovács and Imre Bojtor, while reporter János Szilágyi is standing in front of them wearing headphones.

34 years later at László Németh’s again – in 1973, literary giant Gyula Illyés can be seen on the left side of the picture, his wife Flóra Kozmutza on the right. Writer Tibor Déry is in the front, while that’s actress Katalin Gombos behind Flóra.

A different kind of event in the same year, in 1973. This seems like a typical house party of the time with mini-skirts, flares, long hair and rock sounds from the West.

Kazoos, masks, paper hats and other NYE supplies are in plentiful supply on this street vendor’s table at Felszabadulás tér – today Ferenciek tere – in 1977.


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