Weekly newsletter

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day Traditions from Hungarian Folklore

Fanni Kaszás 2020.11.01.

All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, the 1st and 2nd of November respectively, are the days when Hungarians traditionally remember their loved ones by lighting candles in cemeteries. However, besides the candles, there are some almost forgotten traditions in Hungarian folklore from these days, which we have collected in this article. 

All Saints’ Day – November 1st

Also known as All Hallows’ Day, this holiday is held on the day after Halloween, as early Christians tried to adapt their holidays and practices to the existing pagan ones. Thus, All Saints’ Day was connected to the day of the former Celtic dead cult. The new Christian holiday was officially recognized by the church in 835 and since then, it has been held on the 1st of November. Later, the following day, November 2nd, was also declared a Holy day: the Day of the Dead, or All Souls’ Day. On All Saints’ Day, it is common for families to attend church, as well as visit cemeteries in order to lay flowers and candles on the graves of their deceased loved ones. This is why many cemeteries are operating with longer opening hours. It is a Solemnity in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church and a national holiday in many historically Christian countries, so in Hungary as well.

Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day - Can We Celebrate them all?
Halloween, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day - Can We Celebrate them all?

Nowadays, Halloween has become increasingly fashionable even in Hungary: Halloween greetings on social media sites, Halloween parties and costumes, and sometimes even Hungarian children follow the American tradition and go ‘trick or treating’ on October 31st. However, many people argue that Halloween is a foreign holiday, and Hungarians shouldn’t follow its traditions as we also […]Continue reading

But what about the Hungarian folk customs on November 1st? Even today, it is still customary to clean tombs, decorate them, and light candles in memory of the dead. According to folklore, the dead visit them during such times, so it is customary in many places to lay the table for them as well, put bread, salt, and water on the table. The Hungarians of Bukovina also bake and cook for the dead and take the food to the cemetery and distribute it. They light as many candles at home as many dead the family has. In the villages along the river Ipoly, those who cannot go to the cemetery light candles at home on All Saints’ Day. They used to observe whose candle burnt out first, because it was believed that they would be the first to die in the family.

photo: Balázs Mohai/MTI

Around the Southern Hungarian city Szeged, Hungarians baked an empty cake called ‘the beggar’s cake,’ which was given to beggars waiting at the cemetery gate, so that they could also commemorate the family’s dead. In Csallóköz, according to a similar tradition, the cake baked on this day was also distributed among the praying beggars standing at the gates of cemeteries, so that the dead would not return home. In Jászdózsa, as people lit candles in the cemetery, they also left the lamp lit back home so that the dead could look around. They thought, “while the bells are ringing, the dead are at home.” In the villages along the Tápió, a bowl of food was placed on the table for the dead as well.

In addition to the customs concerning the dead of the family, All Saints’ Day also has economic traditions. In Csepa, the animals were locked in the barns. On this day in Galgamács, the servants and shepherds were chosen and given contracts for work. In Nagymagyar, the journeyman and worker’s fair was held every Halloween. Here the farmers made an agreement with the workers to serve them.

photo: Zsolt Czeglédi/MTI

All Souls’ Day – November 2nd

Also known as the commemoration of all the faithful departed, that is, the souls of all Christians who died but have not yet received salvation, who are currently in purgatory. The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that souls, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or who have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, alms, and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass. Gradually, the Day of the Dead has evolved from a religious holiday into a general commemoration of departed loved ones.

photo: Zsolt Czeglédi/MTI

On the night between All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Dead, it is said that the mass is held by the dead in the churches. On the Day of the Dead, the poor and beggars were entertained and got a feast from the wealthy. In the Gyimes Valley, they said, “We cook for the day of the dead, we bake loaves, we give them to the dead.” There are places where food is also put on the graves, such as in Topolya, but they also give food to beggars. On the day of the dead at Ipolyhíd, close relatives ate lunch together, then went out to the cemetery and lit a candle in honor of their deceased family members.

There was a washing ban on the day and in some places even during the week of the dead, fearing that the dead person returning home would be standing in water at the time. It was also forbidden to wash in Csallóköz, because they feared that the clothes would turn yellow. They were not whitewashed either, because they thought that then worms would cover the house. No earthworks were carried out in Slavonia on the Day of the Dead either, because they feared that those who broke the rule would got sores and boils on their body. In Csantavér, they predicted next year’s dead from the rain on All Souls’ Day.

photo: Péter Komka/MTI

Today, All Saints’ Day and the All Souls’ Day are celebrations of the memory of the dead, both in towns and in villages: going to the cemetery, tidying up the graves, lighting candles, are all musts for almost everyone. The celebration of the Day of the Dead with lights was spread in some places only as a new custom, after the Second World War, for example in the villages of Kalotaszeg.

featured photo: Péter Komka/MTI