There are a lot of interesting folk customs still alive all over Hungary. Many of them are connected with religious holidays, while others have older origins, from early, sometimes from prehistoric years. The two, most known customs of Easter are the “sprinkling” and the egg-painting. Both are very common in both urban and rural areas, among people of every age-group.
The old tradition is shown on the first two pictures. These photos here show folk costumes that people wear just for special occasions today. Today women wear casual dresses for sprinkling, not folk costumes. Also, men sprinkle with cologne, not with water. A couple of decades ago men poured water on women in rural areas and women changed their clothes after each sprinkling. Boys often dragged girls to the well and poured water on them with pail. Sometimes they washed them in creek.
The possible reason for this very old tradition is that people believed in the cleaning, healing and fertility effect of water.
Easter is a 2-day holiday in Hungary. On Monday boys and men visit all of their women relatives, friends, neighbors, often even if they are not close friends. Boys in small groups, fathers with their sons, or single men leave early in the morning and their “tour” last all day long. They greet girls and women with shorter – longer poems (mostly with a funny poem about “Eastern sprinkling”) and sprinkle them with cologne. Women must be well-prepared, they treat men with dessert and beverages – and with hand-painted eggs. Women usually prepare in the previous days by cleaning up the house thoroughly, decorating, cooking and painting a couple dozen eggs.
There is a competition among young girls – who gets the most “sprinklers” wins. It is a shame if the girl is not ready early morning when the first visitor rings the bell. The result? Women wear more then a dozen of different colognes by Monday evening, and sometimes the alcoholic beverages are harmful for men also. Many times, sprinkling continues on the next day in the working places and we, women wait the evening desperately to wash our hair.
Easter eggs and the Easter bunny
Within the Christian tradition, the custom of dyeing eggs red goes back a thousand years. Red symbolizes the blood of Christ; the egg, eternal life. Other colors began to be used only three hundred years ago. Hungarian Easter eggs are decorated with simple geometric shapes or ornamented with swirls of plants and flowers. Ancient symbols sometimes feature too: the wheel of the sun or the cockscomb, for example. The colorful flowers that adorn so many eggs echo the embroidery on Hungarian national costume. The decoration of Easter eggs is a Hungarian craft in its own right. Wax-resist dyeing is the most popular method: The pattern is painted onto the shell using a quill dipped in molten wax. The egg is dyed, and then warmed slightly to melt off the wax, so that the white, undyed pattern appears.
Engraving, an alternative method, requires the egg to be dyed first. The pattern is then engraved on with a knife. According to how deeply the surface is scratched, a deeper or paler color is revealed. A simple but effective method is to boil onion skins in water; boiling the eggs in this gives them a lovely dark brown color. They are then rubbed with bacon rind skin to give them a sheen.
Pretty, natural patterns in a paler color can be obtained by sticking leaves onto the shells of the eggs before they are boiled. Once the eggs are dyed, the leaves are removed.
Another traditional technique is to decorate blown eggs with tiny metal horseshoes. This requires some dexterity, so is done only by trained craftsmen. The first chocolate eggs arrived on the market at the beginning of the 19th century. The confectioners decorated these eggs lavishly; some creations featured in the local press. One such was a chocolate egg with the picture – likewise executed in chocolate – of the chain bridge then under construction. Built between 1842 and 1849, this was the first fixed bridge over the Danube uniting Buda and Pest.
The Easter rabbit has rather more recent origins; it probably did not reach Hungary until the 20th century. It comes from a German cultural background, and is first mentioned at the end of the 17th century. Unlike the other Easter customs, which are rural in origin, the Easter bunny spread from the town outward.
Easter Meal – Hungarian Easter Tradition
Ham and eggs are traditional fare
For the Hungarian celebration of Easter, the table is richly laden. Alongside slices of fragrant ham, the table is adorned with a braided Easter loaf; there are eggs, boiled in the cooking liquid from the ham, and grated horseradish, served alone or in a vinegar dressing. The accompaniments include mustard, radishes, and young onions. The feast often also includes lamb dishes and nut or poppy-seed cake.
“No Easter meal is complete without ham,” according to tradition. Indeed, Hungarians set great store by the Easter ham. It is sometimes taken to be blessed by the priest after Mass, along with the eggs, horseradish, and braided loaf. On the farm, when a pig is slaughtered, the best ham is reserved for Easter, and cured or smoked with extra care.
Equal care is taken when buying a ham for Easter. The traditional country ham is not the only kind available. Some opt for smoked knuckle; others for a boned and netted ham. This type proves less popular among those conscious of tradition, though it does have a lower fat content.
No festive meal would be complete without the Easter loaf. This is a light yeast bread with a golden brown crust, made in the form of a circular braid. In the Hungarian countryside, people have been baking such a loaf for special occasions for six hundred years. More elegant than standard bread, it is an essential feature at Easter, Christmas, and country weddings. It is made in basically the same way everywhere, with slight regional variations in the dough, and variations in appearance according to the occasion.