Religious holidays and customs

On 20 August in Hungary, we commemorate both the establishment of the Christian Hungarian state and our King Stephen I (Saint Stephen), the founder of the state. The day was declared a holiday by Maria Theresa in 1771, when King Stephen I was buried and canonised. The first procession in honour of Stephen’s right hand was held in 1818. After the defeat of the War of Independence in 1848, the Hungarian people were not able to keep this feast for a long time, and it was only after the reconciliation with the Habsburg Empire that it gradually became one of the greatest holidays of the Hungarian people again, and was a national holiday until 1945. After the communist regime gained power in the country, it could not be celebrated in the same way because of its national and religious aspects, and was renamed the New Bread Festival, because this is when the first loaves of bread are baked from freshly milled wheat.

It was celebrated as Constitution Day from 1949 until the fall of communism in 1989, and then it was back to the old traditions: the procession in honour of St. Jobb is held again – a time when this relic of the Hungarian people is paraded around Budapest. Since 1991, it has been an official state holiday, with high state honours being awarded on this occasion.

In the old world, there was no special tradition of St. Stephen’s Day, but in some places it was the day of the harvest processions. They would weave a wreath of wheat, march to the church and say a prayer of thanksgiving for the completion of the harvest. There are also popular observations associated with this day: the weather will be like it is on this day for 40 days. So, if the weather is good on St. Stephen’s Day, the fruit harvest will be abundant, but if the weather is bad, be prepared for a bad harvest.

In Hungary, the first days of the last month of autumn – 1 and 2 November for Catholics – are All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead. We remember our dead by going to the cemetery, placing flowers, wreaths and candles on their graves. There used to be folk beliefs and customs associated with these days. It was believed that the dead would return, so they would lay a table with bread, salt and water. In certain places, candles were lit, as many as there were dead people in the family, and they watched to see whose candle burned out first, because they believed that they would be the next to die.

Today, these traditions are no longer really held; the Day of the Dead is really about remembering and honouring our dead.

Dóra Horváth

The new bread, tied with a ribbon in national colours


Augusztus 20. – Szent István napja, magyar államalapítás napja | Gyermekkönyvtár (

Source of imagines:,

Main photo: Statue of King Stephen I (Saint)