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St. Martin’s Day In Transylvania – The Way Of Celebration “Only From The Clear Spring”

Robert Velkey 2016.11.15.

 „Márton napján; ha a lúd jégen jár; akkor karácsonykor vízben poroszkál.” – “On Martin’s day; if the goose stands on ice; on Christmas day; it will walk in a cold wet mud”


What keeps a community alive? What does our community mean to us? What can a tradition give to us, and how can we taste, “live” a tradition together? In what ways do we celebrate today? 

Nowadays, in our daily urban lives, we are constantly busy. There are so many things to do. No, we are not bored for a minute, but sometimes we forget what celebrations and feast-days are all about. To be together, to take care of each other, and to be glad for each other’s company and for everything that we have.

Nowadays, St. Martin’s day doesn’t mean so much to us. Probably, we cook some goose for dinner, or we visit a restaurant for a goose dinner somewhere, but that’s all. It is hard, not to forget what is it all about… originally… “only from the clear spring” citing Béla Bartók. In all honesty, we have to taste the water of the aforementioned spring to find some answers for these kinds of questions.

On the 11-12 of November 2016 Hungarian communities celebrated St. Martin’s day, in Transylvania, in the villages of the valley of the Nyárád River (Nyárádmente), (where, Béla Bartók himself once traveled, collecting folk songs and stories. In 1914, the Hungarian composer recorded 19 Hungarian folk songs on phonograph, for example the well-known song: “Erdő, erdő, erdő, marosszéki kerek erdő”). At Székelyhodos (Hodoşa, Mureş County, Romania) Hungarian inhabitants of the surrounding villages came together and participated an amazing, colorful program in the school building and the community house of the village.


The schools’s teacher, Hajnal Kémenes, collected her “pumpkins of the next generation” like a mother hen, and organized the St. Martin’s day festivities with the help of Anett Garamvölgyi, who is a community manager working in the region under the auspices of the Petőfi Sándor Program, an internship program administered by the Office of the Prime Minister of Hungary.


During the afternoon program, the participating children learned about the traditions of St. Martin, made hand-crafted geese, and learned Hungarian proverbs, folk songs and dances. Zoltán Juhász and Réka Juhász, teachers at the Folk Music Department of Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music of Budapest, held a performance for the children.


They told folk tales and played the songs indigenous to the region. The Zurgó Band from Budapest invited the participants for dances, and taught folk-songs for the young audience.


On the same night in Nyárádszentmárton (Mitrești, Mureş County, Romania) the village held a ball (bál) in the Community House. The local acting-company and the dance troupe of the village were on the stage for a short, in which the Zurgó Band from Hungary also performed. After the performances and before the raffle (and after the raffle until the morning) the people of the surrounding villages and the guests from Hungary danced, sang and talked together. This may be the purest definition of a community; when the old ladies are watching the next generation’s dances, those in their middle-age sing on the terrace, and everybody is having fun together.



Just like in the next morning at the celebration of an ecumenical service…all right, fine, not everyone who was out the night before made it to the service… but at any rate, as the pastor said in his sermon, nature surprised the celebration the next morning with a huge, white veil of snow that blanketed all the villages. The white snow brightened the next days and hided the mass-up of the past, and let us know what’s our next Christmas will be like, by the Hungarian folk-proverbs.


Hungarians of Transylvania celebrated this way, and we might do well to learn from them about what community means…thank you for being part of it.


photos: Hajnal Kémenes, Anett Garamvölgyi; Dóra Hrágyel

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