Step into the heart of Hungary’s Republic Day celebration and explore the traditions, meaning, and historical importance. Dive deep into the essence of Memorial Day in Hungary.
- Date: February 1st
- Main Components: Commemorating the law that proclaimed the Hungarian Republic in 1946
- Popularity: Official remembrance day since 2006, but not a public holiday
- Pairings: Other occasions that mark the establishment or restoration of the republic in Hungary
- Variations: None
Hungary is a country with a rich and diverse heritage, a turbulent and resilient past, and a vibrant and dynamic present. Throughout its history, Hungary has experienced various forms of political regimes, from kingdoms and empires to republics and dictatorships. One of the most significant events in the modern history of Hungary was the proclamation of the republic in 1946, which ended the monarchy and established a parliamentary democracy. This event is commemorated every year on February 1 as the Memorial Day of the Republic, an official remembrance day that honors the achievements and struggles of the Hungarian people for freedom and sovereignty.
The Origins and Foundation of Hungary
Hungary traces its origins to the Hungarian Kingdom, which was founded by King St. Stephen (Szent István) in the year 1000. St. Stephen was the first Christian king of Hungary, who unified the various tribes and clans under his rule and established a strong state that lasted for centuries. He also adopted the Himnusz (anthem), a religious hymn that expresses the devotion and loyalty of the Hungarians to God and their homeland.
The Hungarian Kingdom was part of the Holy Roman Empire and later the Austrian Empire, which exerted a great influence on its politics, culture, and economy. The Hungarians often rebelled against the foreign domination and oppression, especially in the 19th century, when nationalism and liberalism were on the rise in Europe. The most famous uprising was the 1848 Revolution, which aimed at achieving independence from the Austrian Empire and creating a constitutional monarchy with equal rights for all citizens.
The leader of the 1848 Revolution was Lajos Kossuth, a lawyer and politician who became the president of the Hungarian National Council, a provisional government that declared independence from Austria in April 1849. However, the revolution was crushed by the combined forces of Austria and Russia, who restored the Habsburg rule over Hungary. Many revolutionaries were executed or exiled, including Kossuth, who fled to Turkey and later to England and America.
The 1848 Revolution is considered one of the most heroic but also tragic events in Hungarian history. It inspired generations of Hungarians to fight for freedom and democracy. The symbols of the revolution are still widely used today, such as the Nemzeti dal (National Song), a patriotic poem written by Sándor Petőfi that calls for action and unity among Hungarians, and the cockade, a tricolor ribbon with red, white, and green stripes that represents the national colors of Hungary.
One of the most solemn commemorations of the 1848 Revolution is held on October 6, when Hungarians remember the execution of the 13 generals who fought bravely against Austria in the War of Independence. They are known as the Martyrs of Arad (Az aradi vértanúk), because they were hanged in Arad (now in Romania) by order of Julius Jacob von Haynau, an Austrian general who earned the nickname “the Hyena of Brescia” for his brutal repression of revolts in Italy and Hungary.
The Twentieth Century and Its Challenges
The 20th century brought many changes and challenges for Hungary, as it faced two world wars, two revolutions, and two dictatorships. After World War I, which resulted in the defeat of Austria-Hungary and its allies, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and population to its neighboring countries under the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. This treaty is regarded as one of the most unjust and humiliating agreements in Hungarian history, as it left millions of Hungarians outside their homeland and created economic and social problems for those who remained.
The Treaty of Trianon also marked the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had ruled over Hungary for more than three centuries. In its place, Hungary became a republic for the first time in its history in 1918. However, this First Hungarian Republic was short-lived, as it was soon replaced by a communist regime led by Béla Kun in 1919. Kun proclaimed Hungary as a Soviet republic and attempted to implement radical reforms that provoked resistance from both internal and external forces. His government was overthrown by a Romanian invasion supported by France and Britain.
The fall of communism paved the way for another form of authoritarianism in Hungary: fascism. In 1920, Miklós Horthy became the regent of Hungary, a position he held until 1944. Horthy was a former admiral of the Austro-Hungarian Navy and a leader of the counter-revolutionary forces that opposed Kun’s regime. He restored the monarchy in Hungary, but without a king, and established a conservative and nationalist government that allied itself with Nazi Germany and Italy in World War II.
Hungary’s involvement in World War II had disastrous consequences for its people, especially for the Jews, who were persecuted and deported to concentration camps by the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators. Hungary also suffered heavy losses and damages from the bombings and battles that took place on its soil. In 1944, Horthy was forced to resign by the Germans, who occupied Hungary and installed a puppet regime led by Ferenc Szálasi, the leader of the Arrow Cross Party, a fascist and anti-Semitic organization.
The end of World War II brought another occupation and dictatorship to Hungary: communism. In 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated Hungary from the Nazis, but also imposed its control over the country. Hungary became a satellite state of the Soviet Union and a member of the Eastern Bloc, a group of communist countries that were aligned with Moscow. The Soviet influence was evident in all aspects of Hungarian life, from politics and economy to culture and education.
The Hungarian People’s Republic was established in 1949, following a series of rigged elections and purges that eliminated any opposition to the communist party. The first leader of the republic was Mátyás Rákosi, who was known as “Stalin’s best pupil” for his ruthless and oppressive policies. He was succeeded by Ernő Gerő in 1956, who continued Rákosi’s legacy of terror and repression.
However, not all Hungarians accepted the communist rule without resistance. In 1956, a revolution broke out in Hungary, inspired by the reforms initiated by Nikita Khrushchev in the Soviet Union and the uprising in Poland. The revolution began as a peaceful demonstration by students and workers in Budapest on October 23, who demanded more freedom and democracy from their government. They also expressed their solidarity with Poland and their admiration for its leader Władysław Gomułka, who had defied Moscow’s interference in his country’s affairs.
The demonstration soon turned into a nationwide revolt, as thousands of Hungarians joined the protesters and clashed with the security forces. The revolutionaries formed councils and militias to organize themselves and fight against the regime. They also tore down the statues and symbols of communism, such as the red star and the hammer and sickle. One of the most iconic images of the revolution is the Hungarian flag with a hole in the middle, where the communist emblem used to be.
The revolutionaries also issued a list of demands that included:
- The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary
- The establishment of a multiparty system and free elections
- The release of political prisoners and the rehabilitation of victims of communism
- The freedom of speech, press, religion, and association
- The respect for human rights and national sovereignty
The revolution seemed to succeed at first, as Gerő resigned and was replaced by Imre Nagy, a reformist communist who supported the revolutionaries’ demands. Nagy announced that Hungary would leave the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance between the Soviet Union and its allies, and declared Hungary as a neutral country. He also promised to hold free elections and restore democracy in Hungary.
However, Nagy’s reforms were unacceptable for the Soviet Union, which saw them as a threat to its dominance in Eastern Europe. On November 4, 1956, Soviet tanks invaded Budapest and crushed the revolution with brutal force. Thousands of Hungarians were killed or wounded in the fighting, while many others were arrested or executed by the Soviets or their Hungarian collaborators. Nagy himself was captured and later hanged in Romania.
The 1956 Revolution is regarded as one of the most courageous but also tragic events in Hungarian history. It showed the world that Hungarians were willing to fight for their freedom and dignity against overwhelming odds. It also inspired other movements for democracy and independence in Eastern Europe and beyond.
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The Contemporary Hungary and Its Culture
Hungary had to wait more than three decades to achieve its long-awaited freedom and democracy. In 1989, following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, Hungary became one of the first countries to break away from the Soviet bloc and restore its sovereignty. On October 23, 1989, exactly 33 years after the start of the 1956 Revolution, Hungary proclaimed itself as a republic for the third time in its history.
The Third Hungarian Republic marked a new era for Hungary, as it embarked on a process of political, economic, and social transformation. Hungary adopted a new constitution that guaranteed human rights and civil liberties for all citizens. It also held free elections that resulted in a multiparty system and a parliamentary democracy. Moreover, Hungary established diplomatic relations with its neighbors and joined several international organizations, such as NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Hungary also reconciled with its past and acknowledged its mistakes and crimes, such as the Holocaust and the communist repression. The contemporary Hungary is a country that celebrates its culture and diversity, as it showcases its achievements and traditions in various fields and domains. The capital city of Budapest is one of the most beautiful and lively cities in Europe, with its stunning architecture, rich history, and vibrant nightlife. Budapest is also home to many attractions, such as the Danube River, which divides the city into two parts: Buda and Pest; the bridges that connect them, such as the Chain Bridge and the Liberty Bridge; the Buda Castle, which houses the National Gallery and the Historical Museum; the Parliament, which is the largest and most impressive building in Hungary; the Heroes’ Square, which commemorates the founders and leaders of Hungary; and the Fisherman’s Bastion, which offers a panoramic view of the city. Hungary also has many other cities and regions that are worth visiting, such as Debrecen, the second-largest city in Hungary and a cultural and educational center; Pécs, a city with a Mediterranean flair and a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Győr, a city with a baroque style and a famous summer festival; Eger, a city with a historical castle and a renowned wine region; Hortobágy, a national park with a unique landscape and wildlife; and Subcarpathia, a region with a large Hungarian minority and a rich folk culture.
Hungary is also known for its festivals and events that celebrate its culture and heritage, such as:
- Budapest Spring Festival: A major cultural event that takes place every year in March or April, featuring concerts, operas, ballets, exhibitions, and performances by local and international artists.
- Budapest Autumn Arts Festival: A similar event to the spring festival, but held in September or October, showcasing contemporary arts and culture in various venues across Budapest.
- Sziget Festival (Student Island or Pepsi Island): One of the largest music festivals in Europe, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year in August. The festival is held on an island in the Danube River and offers a variety of musical genres, from rock and pop to folk and world music.
- Miskolc Opera Festival: A prestigious opera festival that takes place every year in June in Miskolc, a city in northeastern Hungary. The festival features performances by renowned opera singers and orchestras from Hungary and abroad.
- Eger Wine Harvest Festival: A popular wine festival that takes place every year in September in Eger, a city famous for its red wine called Bull’s Blood (Bikavér). The festival offers wine tasting, gastronomy, folk music, and dance.
- Hortobágy Equestrian Days: A traditional event that takes place every year in July in Hortobágy, a national park that is home to the Hungarian cowboys (csikós) and their horses. The event showcases the skills and traditions of the csikós, such as horse riding, whip cracking, cart racing, etc.
- Szeged Open Air Festival: A theatrical festival that takes place every year in July and August in Szeged, a city in southern Hungary. The festival features plays, musicals, operettas, comedies, and dramas performed on an open-air stage in front of the cathedral.
- Szentendre Summer Festival: A cultural festival that takes place every year in July and August in Szentendre, a picturesque town near Budapest. The festival offers concerts, exhibitions, workshops, and street art by local and international artists.
- Győr Summer Cultural Festival: A diverse festival that takes place every year in July and August in Győr, a city in western Hungary. The festival offers music, dance, theater, cinema, literature, and gastronomy events for all ages and tastes.
- Kőszeg Street Theatre Festival: A unique festival that takes place every year in August in Kőszeg, a town in western Hungary. The festival features street performances, puppet shows, circus acts, and fire shows by local and international artists.
- Savaria International Dance Competition: A competitive dance festival that takes place every year in August in Szombathely, a city in western Hungary. The festival features dancers from various countries and styles, such as ballet, modern, folk, jazz, etc.
- Sopron Early Music Days: A classical music festival that takes place every year in July in Sopron, a city in western Hungary. The festival features concerts by renowned musicians and ensembles who specialize in early music, such as medieval, renaissance, and baroque.
- Pannon Festival in Buda: A cultural festival that takes place every year in June in Budapest. The festival offers music, theater, literature, and gastronomy events that reflect the diversity and richness of the Pannonian region, which includes Hungary and its neighboring countries.
- Formula 1 car races at Hungaroring in Mogyoród: A sporting event that takes place every year in July or August in Mogyoród, a town near Budapest. The event attracts thousands of fans and spectators who watch the world’s best drivers compete on the Hungaroring circuit, which is known for its twists and turns.
- Bridge Fair in Budapest: A traditional fair that takes place every year in August on the Chain Bridge, one of the oldest and most iconic bridges in Budapest. The fair offers crafts, souvenirs, food, and entertainment for locals and tourists alike.
The Holidays and Traditions of Hungary
Hungary has many holidays and traditions that reflect its history and culture. Some of the most important and popular ones are:
New Year’s Day (Újév) and New Year’s Eve (Szilveszter): On January 1, Hungarians celebrate the beginning of the new year with fireworks, parties, and concerts. On December 31, they bid farewell to the old year with champagne, lentils, and hoots. Lentils are believed to bring luck and prosperity in the new year. Hoots are horns or whistles that are blown at midnight to scare away evil spirits.
National Day (Nemzeti ünnep) on March 15: On this day, Hungarians commemorate the 1848 Revolution and its leaders. They wear cockades and sing the Nemzeti dal. They also attend speeches, ceremonies, and exhibitions that celebrate their national identity and pride.
Easter (Húsvét) on a Sunday and Monday in March or April: On this day, Hungarians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with religious services and family gatherings. They also have some customs that are unique to Hungary, such as painting eggs with various patterns and colors, eating ham with horseradish sauce and bread for breakfast, and sprinkling water or perfume on women by men. The latter is a folk tradition that symbolizes fertility and freshness.
Labour Day (Munka ünnepe) on May 1: On this day, Hungarians celebrate workers’ rights and achievements with parades, rallies, and festivals. They also enjoy the spring weather and nature with picnics, outings, and sports.
Pentecost (Pünkösd) on a Sunday and Monday in May or June: On this day, Hungarians celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of Jesus Christ with religious services and processions. They also have some folk traditions that are related to Pentecost, such as decorating houses with green branches and flowers, making wreaths of birch or oak leaves for girls and boys, and jumping over bonfires for good luck.
State Foundation Day (Államalapítás ünnepe) on August 20: On this day, Hungarians celebrate the foundation of the Hungarian state and the legacy of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. They also honor the new bread of the year, as this day is also known as the Day of the New Bread. They attend religious services, concerts, and fireworks displays. They also watch the procession of the Holy Right, the mummified right hand of St. Stephen, which is kept in the Parliament and displayed in public on this day.
Memorial Day of the Republic (A köztársaság emléknapja) on October 23: On this day, Hungarians commemorate the 1956 Revolution and its heroes. They also celebrate the restoration of the republic in 1989, which marked the end of communism and the beginning of democracy in Hungary. They attend speeches, ceremonies, and exhibitions that pay tribute to their history and values. They also wear the national flag with a hole in the middle, which symbolizes the resistance and courage of the revolutionaries.
All Saints Day (Mindenszentek napja) on November 1: On this day, Hungarians remember their deceased relatives and friends by visiting cemeteries and lighting candles on their graves. They also pray for their souls and offer them flowers and gifts. They also observe some folk traditions that are related to All Saints Day, such as baking special breads and cakes, carving pumpkins and turnips, and telling stories about ghosts and spirits.
Christmas (Karácsony) on December 24-26: On this day, Hungarians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with religious services and family gatherings. They also have some customs that are unique to Hungary, such as decorating the Christmas tree with ornaments, candles, and sweets; exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve (Szenteste), when children receive presents from Baby Jesus (Jézuska); attending midnight mass (éjféli mise) on Christmas Eve; eating fish soup (halászlé), stuffed cabbage (töltött káposzta), and poppy seed cake (mákos guba) for Christmas dinner; and visiting relatives and friends on Second Day of Christmas (Karácsony másnapja).
Other special days and their traditions, such as:
- Carnival (Farsang) before Lent, featuring masquerades, parades, dances, etc.
- International Women’s Day (Nemzetközi nőnap) on March 8, honoring women’s achievements and rights
- Remembrance Day for the Victims of the Holocaust (A holokauszt áldozatainak emléknapja) on April 16, paying tribute to the Jews who perished in the ghettos and concentration camps
- National Defense Day (Honvédelmi nap) on May 21, celebrating the Hungarian armed forces and their actions
- National Unity Day (A nemzeti összetartozás napja) on June 4, marking the anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon and its impact on the Hungarian nation
- Remembrance Day for the Martyrs of Arad (Az aradi vértanúk emléknapja) on October 6, honoring the 13 generals who were executed after the 1848 War of Independence
- Remembrance Day for the Victims of Communism (A kommunizmus áldozatainak emléknapja) on February 25, remembering those who suffered under the Soviet regime
- Saint Nicholas Day (Mikulás) on December 6, when children receive chocolates, fruits, and coins in their boots from Santa Claus (Télapó)
- Christmas Eve (Szenteste) on December 24, when children receive presents from Baby Jesus (Jézuska)
Hungary is a country with a unique and diverse history and culture that has shaped its identity and character. Hungary has experienced various forms of political regimes, from kingdoms and empires to republics and dictatorships. One of the most significant events in its modern history was the proclamation of the republic in 1946, which ended the monarchy and established a parliamentary democracy. This event is commemorated every year on February 1 as the Memorial Day of the Republic, an official remembrance day that honors the achievements and struggles of the Hungarian people for freedom and sovereignty. Hungary is also a country that celebrates its culture and diversity in various fields and domains. The capital city of Budapest is one of the most beautiful and lively cities in Europe, with its stunning architecture, rich history, and vibrant nightlife. Hungary also has many other cities and regions that are worth visiting, such as Debrecen, Pécs, Győr, Eger, Hortobágy, etc. Hungary is also known for its festivals and events that showcase its culture and heritage, such as Budapest Spring Festival