Boldog Husvét Hétfö! Happy Easter Monday! In Hungary today our friends are celebrating Easter Monday. It is a national holiday, and all the stores and businesses are closed. On Friday our Catholic neighbors went to mass, where the crucifix was decorated with flowers and laid upon the altar. On Saturday they carried baskets of ham, decorated eggs, bread and wine to the church to be blessed by the priest, and after the celebration of mass the crucifix was paraded through the streets. On Easter the church bells rang out the news of the resurrection and every family feasted on ham and eggs and poppy seed rolls. The word for Easter in Hungarian, Husvét, means meaty, because everyone eats meat after a long Lenten fast. Easter is celebrated in similar ways in Catholic countries around the world.
But the celebration of Easter Monday in Hungary is unique. On our first Easter Monday in Budapest, Catherine enjoyed the holiday from school by going on a long walk through Diósd with her girl friends. She came home after an hour smelling of cheap perfume and told us how groups of boys had chased the girls through the streets of the village, spraying them with scent. She did not know that this was a compliment, and that the boys expected to receive a red decorated egg and perhaps even a kiss in return.
No one is sure how this Hungarian tradition began, but it does not seem likely that it was a pagan custom, because it did not start until 400 years after the country became a Christian nation. It is probable that it started with the sprinkling of fragrant holy water by priests to bless believers’ homes on Easter Monday. In ancient Hungarian villages the young men would drag girls they liked to the village well or creek and pour buckets of water over their heads. Today groups of young men will travel from house to house, or roam the streets, sprinkling the women they favor with scent. At each house they will be offered pastries and palinka (Hungarian brandy) and given red eggs. The stores sell chocolate eggs wrapped in red foil which can also be given as a reward for the privilege of being baptized in cheap perfume.