The annual celebration of England’s patron saint, St George’s Day means many things to many people. Here in Budapest, where parades and balls have long marked the national days of Scotland and Ireland, the occasion has often gone by unnoticed. Now long-term resident Stephen Linfitt aims to change that by staging a St George’s Day event at the Corinthia Ballroom on the nearest convenient Saturday of 30 April, inviting UK ambassador Paul Fox and his counterparts from Ireland, the Netherlands and Ukraine. Among the attractions will be a live band, a DJ and English beer. Proceeds from a charity raffle and auction will go to support children and families affected by the conflict in Ukraine. Stephen also has a heartfelt personal reason for arranging this St George’s Day event – as he explains to We Love Budapest.
Shakespeare, James Bond, cricket – many things make up England, whose national day has rarely been celebrated here in Budapest.
To change the narrative, present the many elements that comprise his
native land and also raise money for the victims of the conflict in Ukraine,
long-term Budapest resident Stephen Linfitt has taken matters in his own hands
by curating a multifaceted celebration at the Corinthia Ballroom on 30 April.
Along with live music from Anglo-friendly cover band The Vibe, a Shakespearean speech with a twist from actor Alexis Latham and late-night tunes spun by DJ Woods, on offer will be English whisky and gin, drinks mixed at the pálinka bar, and fine wines and cheeses. The bizarre yet revered game of cricket will also be presented.
Up for grabs, among other prizes at a charity raffle and auction, will be stay for two in an Executive Suite at Corinthia Budapest, a luxury landmark five-star hotel with a rich cinematic history. All proceeds from the raffle and auction go to the Hungarian National Committee of UNICEF, to support children and families affected by the conflict in Ukraine.
Interwoven in all this is Stephen’s own reasons to mark the day – as we find out:
We Love Budapest: Why did you feel the need to create a St George's Day event in Budapest?
Stephen Linfitt: There are a few reasons, the first a personal one. My younger brother died last year close to St George’s Day, in tragic circumstances and, for want of a better way of saying it, this event is a kind of tribute to him.
Due to Covid, I was unable to attend his funeral and wake in England, so I hope he’ll show up to this event in spirit, as it were, since he wanted to come over to Hungary again just before his death. Guests needn’t know this of course, but Graham has been a strong motivation for me to make the event happen during difficult times.
When the terrible war broke out in Ukraine, I wondered if it was best even to hold the event, which was past the planning phase by that time. I’d spoken to the British Ambassador about it at Budapest’s St Andrew’s Gala, and at his office in January. I shared a few practical ideas to see what he thought, we agreed on everything, and Ambassador Fox reassured me that my plan had his full backing and that he looked forward to attending.
The Scots and the Irish hold great events in Budapest to celebrate their patron saints, so why not create a St George’s event here for the English community and interested guests? This year also coincides with the Queen’s platinum jubilee.
From the start, my plans included a charity raffle, as they do at the St Patrick’s Gala and Burns Supper. I also felt it right to proceed with this event to support people affected by the conflict in Ukraine. I added a charity auction to help raise funds for UNICEF Hungary to use to support children and families affected by the war.
It’s perhaps important to add the fact that my family adopted my brother, who was of Indian descent, when he was two weeks old. I was four. Given our ages, we got along just like blood brothers and as we grew up together, I stood up for Graham when he was picked on due to the colour of his skin.
The international saint
It’s interesting that England’s patron saint wasn't actually English. Personally, I like the fact that he’s a truly international figure. And it’s what he actually stands for that counts, rather than the country where he was born.
England isn't the only country to celebrate St George. Hungary officially recognises him, and St George’s Day is heralded as the arrival of spring in the traditional Ukrainian calendar. Sadly, the Church of St George in Zavorychi, outside Kyiv, was recently burned down. This event is an opportune occasion to come together as an international community to #StandWithUkraine.
Many other countries have their own celebrations and ceremonies in honour of St George, including Greece, Portugal, Spain and Bulgaria, even Jordan and Ethiopia – as well as in Bavaria, Catalonia, Genoa, Venice and Newfoundland, among many other places.
During the Middle Ages, people believed St George could help during epidemics, and his protection was invoked during the Plague. This topic obviously resonates today. It also adds to the symbolism of the myth around St George, saving the princess from the dragon, the triumph of good over evil.
So I appreciate everything St George stands for, the courage to face adversity to defend the innocent, which has an important, unifying quality. He represents the idea that you can take on tasks you might at first feel are bigger than you and still succeed. He’s also a positive symbol of multiculturalism, and of protection against ill.
WLB: What were the key factors involved when you came to draw up the programme of entertainment?
SL: Nationality is an accident of birth, and so the goal is to bring the international community together in Budapest to extend the bonds of friendship and solidarity in an enjoyable way.
Thankfully my brother and I had a good upbringing together in England. We shared the same cultural experiences, school, TV, cricket, English music and so on. It's my intention to share a few particularly English things at this event for everyone to enjoy.
Customary elements include the hymn Jerusalem, to be sung by the UK Ambassador’s daughter Eleanor Fox in the beautiful surroundings of the Corinthia Ballroom. I’m really glad she accepted the invitation to travel to Hungary for the occasion, as she’s a classically trained singer.
My brother Graham was in mind when creating much of the other entertainment. I find it’s helpful to present an evening which someone you know will enjoy rather than just put together elements you think others might like. In this way, I had a plan to work towards and the motivation to make it happen.
That’s the reason this event takes place on 30 April, as that date allows Budapest’s favourite expat covers band The Vibe to make it and play popular English indie & pop hits live on stage. DJ Woods then spins tunes in the Ballroom from 11pm until midnight.
My brother loved indie music, as well as a decent pint, so there’ll be an English beer on tap thanks to Sean Falli of the Down Under bar. We came up with the idea of a St George's Traditional Ale, specially brewed by Dreher according to an English recipe.
An English whisky and gin tasting will be presented by spirits expert Dez O'Connell, while Danny from Dunapro will be running a Pálinka Bar that would shake 007. And, as my brother liked Unicum, I’m delighted there'll be a special cocktail bar thanks to Sándor Zwack.
A cheese and wine reception starts from 8pm, including English cheeses, of course, and Szászi wines Szent György-hegy near Balaton. This hill is named after the Chapel of St George that once stood by it, and local stories are intertwined with the English legend of St George and the Dragon. The Sárkány-barlang, the Dragon’s Cave there, is said to be its legendary lair. Other great Hungarian wines to sample include Szeremley, Dúzsi and Twickel – plus there’ll be a blind tasting game created by Bortodoor City.
Since my brother liked sport – he was in the English national squash squad – cricket will be featured for anyone interested to learn more. He also liked an occasional flutter, so there’ll be roulette and blackjack for small prizes.
The dress code is smart casual with a touch of blue, said to have been St George’s favourite colour. A traditional red rose is an optional extra. Event MC is Alexis Latham, founder of Budapest’s Scallabouche Theatre Company, who’ll be making an entertaining speech about Shakespeare – St George’s Day is also the playwright’s birthday.
WLB: How do you see this event developing in the future?
SL: Ticket reservations are going well, thankfully, and I’d love to build on a
successful event. Let’s see how it goes.
When my brother passed away at this time last April, it reminded me how lucky
we are to be alive, and that we need to seize every chance we can to help
others less fortunate than ourselves.