Hungarian history is full of invasions and occupations meaning Hungary has several independence days. However, because all the liberations meant the beginning of a new occupation, national holidays mainly commemorate failed revolutions as opposed to celebrating the freedom they brought along with them.
With Independence Day in America being a happy patriotic holiday celebrated by fireworks and parades, it is the Hungarian August the 20th or St. Stephen’s Day that is most similar in spirit, one of the oldest national holidays celebrating the foundation of the Hungarian Christian State in the year 1000. The date was chosen so as to coincide with the king’s canonisation date, two years after his death.
The whole day is cram-packed with events such as open-air markets, fairs and live music performances, the most famous of which is the Folk Arts Festival.
This four-day festival pays tribute to everything that is Hungarian turning sections of the Castle District into a magical folklore fair, where masters of traditional arts gather to put their masterpieces on display. Little workshops are set up, where you can enjoy exquisitely detailed embroideries being hand-made in front of your very eyes, or beautiful pottery being created out of shapeless slabs of clay. The smell of freshly baked mézeskalács (Hungarian gingerbread cookies) and flame-grilled spicy kolbász (sausages) fill the air. Musical and dance performances also set the mood. On August the 20th, the craftsmen march around the castle in honour of the “State Founder”, as the king was later entitled.
In the evening, fireworks fill the sky over the River Danube. They are best watched from one of the central bridges or from along the Buda and Pest embankment.
The St. Stephen’s Procession, a parade of Catholic nature also takes place on the day, where an unusual relic – the holy right hand – is carried around the streets of Budapest.
The King’s right arm was said to have mummified over the years, discovered when the body was moved from its original grave in Szekesfehervar to its present location of the St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest. It was then shared between several Catholic countries, and Budapest was given the fist.
The procession, a fundamental part of August the 20th, was put on halt during the Communist era due to its religious nature. It was only after the regime collapsed that the cherished holy relic was allowed to be paraded around the streets of Budapest again.