Today is : Thursday,23rd Sep 2021

Instead of Halloween, Hungarians head to the cemeteries for All Soul's Day

Unlike the fun parade that is American Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Soul's Day in Hungary are holidays that address the dead in a rather different way.


Written by Natalie Jaro


Otherwise known as ‘Halottak Napja’ ‘the day of the dead’ or ‘the day of remembrance’, All Soul’s Day and All Saints’ Day are two of the more popular holidays in Hungary that people celebrate. It’s a sentimental kind of national holiday in Hungary that lasts two days, the 1st and 2nd of November after fall has taken hold and the winter is soon upon us. Unlike the fantastical representation of everything dark, sinister and frightening, like the American holiday of Halloween, death is nothing unusual here. Halloween is not celebrated in central Europe but All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day is, they are comparable but radically different. Instead of glorifying the world of the dead by dressing up in ghoulish apparel, the Hungarians first honor the dead saints and then go and visit the hallowed ground upon which their past family members have been laid to rest.

Hungarians don’t carve pumpkins into faces or ride around on brooms either. The word ‘Halloween’ derives from an old English phrase, ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ and is comparable in Hungary to Halloween only in so much as it involves food and wicks that flicker. All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day aren’t for dressing up in a costume or bobbing for apples either. All Saints’ Day was moved by Roman Catholic church leaders from March to November 1rst in the year 835 AD to divert attention from the pagan traditions of the Druid’s similar holiday—Samhain, the Celtic New Year when the spirits of the dead returned to converse with the spirits of the living. Hungarian culture does speak of a halottlátó or ‘death seer’ who generally is an elderly woman who can communicate with the souls of the recently departed and in this, All Soul’s Eve divines a little magic. As a Catholic nation since the 11th century, Hungary takes the holiday to heart as public establishments close for the purpose of allowing people to travel to churches for services and/or for families to visit grave sites. At the churches in Hungary, Catholics pray and hold to the conviction that through prayer and self-denial the faithful can hasten the deliverance of souls from purgatory and into heaven. The Catholic doctrine teaches that some Catholics still have a kind of purification process that they must undergo after dying before they reach heaven. The prayers of living Catholics are believed to lighten the way for those living in purgatory.

Unlike American children who go in search of candied treats from door to door for Halloween, Hungarians go to cemeteries with bright yellow chrysanthemums and light red votive candles to decorate the graves of their beloved departed. Some people even leave food and drinks for their prior loved ones. Special masses are held in many churches all over Hungary to uphold the memory of the Christian martyrs and saints. Sometimes a parish priest will say prayers and blessings at people’s gravesites. The night of All Soul’s Day is one of the biggest times for flower sellers, they line the entrances of the cemeteries making it easy to purchase flowers and candles burn brightly in the dark. If you don’t have anyone to visit at the cemeteries that you know personally visit famous cemeteries like Kerepesi Cemetery coined a ‘decorative’ cemetery that contains ancient wooden graves known as ‘kopfa’ that date back to the original Magyars, carved boats symbolizing the journey down the river of death. Kerepesi Cemetery is also the resting place of many influential Hungarian figures such as the revolutionary Lajos Kossuth, Count Lajos Batthany, Ferenc Deak, János Kádár, József Antall, Blaha Lujza and Jozsef Atilla. At the Farkasréti Cemetery, visitors can find the graves of Béla Bartok and Zoltán Kodaly. Of the saints remembered in Hungary, two of the more popular were once members of the Arpad house, the first dynasty of the Hungarian kings and include, St. Stephen King and his son, St. Imre Prince. Another honored saint was from Venice and his name was St. Gerardo. The Americans, on the other hand, instead of honoring saints or deceased relatives honor a world of their imagination, one of phantoms, and, oh yeah, of candy!

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