What do Hungarians celebrate on August 20th?

August 20th is Hungary’s national holiday and most Hungarians agree that it is an important one. When a reporter asked people on the street in Budapest what this holiday signifies to them, most of them had to think twice. People are not sure what this holiday actually stands for. This is not surprising considering that even in my lifetime the theme of the holiday has changed several times.

August 20 is the Day of the New Bread. Traditionally August 20th was the end of the grain harvest and the first bread from the new wheat was baked on this day. The round bread is adorned with a ribbon in the national colors and the blessing is also part of the ceremony. Bread symbolizes life, the national ribbon expresses country. On August 20th, life and nation are interlinked and celebrated together.

The celebration of new bread in Hungary…

When I was growing up August 20th was also called Constitution Day. On August 20, 1949 the Hungarian People’s Republic adopted a new constitution and the Socialist Law was in effect for about 40 years. August 20th was celebrated as Constitution Day and even today many older Hungarians call it, Alkotmány Ünnep.

Celebrating the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Hungary, prior to 1989.

Lately, August 20th is celebrated primarily as St. Stephen’s Day. Hungarians remember Stephen I, the founder and first king of Hungary who ruled 1000-1038 and was canonized on August 20th, 1083 by Pope Gregory VII. It has also became a Catholic religious holiday when the Church holds the traditional Holy Right Hand (Szent Jobb) procession. The Holy Right Hand is the mummified hand of Stephen I and it is stored in the St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest.

Celebrating St. Stephen, post-1990.

One thing seems to be permanent on August 20th – the traditional fireworks. As a child I always looked forward for the fireworks and for many children in Hungary Aug 20th is Fireworks Day.

Fireworks over the Hungarian parliament.

Happy August 20th!

György Lázár

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *