As the year comes to a close, we take a look at Hungary’s unique New Year’s traditions and superstitions.
In Hungary, New Year’s Eve is called Szilveszter, named for the Eve of Saint Szilveszter. There are numerous traditions and superstitions connected to rounding out one year and welcoming the next, including straw doll burials, loud street parties and big bowls of lentil soup.
As with many other holidays and celebrations, food plays a key role in the local celebrations. A dinner of roast pork or kocsonya on New Year’s Eve is supposed to bring a bountiful year as the pork’s rich fat symbolizes prosperity and wealth, as do lentils, rice, and millet which are usually consumed the first day of the New Year. To further increase wealth and luck Hungarians also eat rétes and korhely soup (a thick cabbage and sausage broth), which is also a well-known hangover cure.
Superstitions and Divinations
According to tradition, fortune-telling also has a very important part as the year draws to a close. Some people bake pogácsa and cakes containing lucky coins and the person who finds it will have luck in the coming year. In the eastern countryside in Hungary locals used to created garlic calendars to foretell the weather. Salt was inserted in twelve cloves of garlic, one for each month of the year, and the ones that became moist by the morning would be a rainy month. Others believed that single girls could predict the name of their soul mate by making dumplings, each filled with the name of a man, and the one that would rise to the top of the water first would be the real ‘Prince Charming’.
Other interesting superstitions are in the form of admonitions about what not to do. Most forms of cleaning and household chores—from cooking to trash disposal—are considered back luck. Some believe, for example, that washing or sewing clothes will bring the death of a loved one.
Traditionally, it was customary to wash in cold water early in the morning to stay healthy in the new year, and for the same reason doctors were to be avoided by all cost. With a chance to start over, people generally steer clear of anger, conflicts, breaking things and all sorts of bad behaviors as it is believed that whatever happened on the first day of the new year would happen over and over again in the months ahead.
In an effort to bid farewell to winter, a common Hungarians tradition is to bury or toss in water a small straw doll that symbolizes the passing year. Making a merry racket to try and scare away troubles and even spirits is also a common practice amongst locals, which used to include costumed gatherings and loud singing. These days the main streets and squares of Budapest are filled with all sorts of open-air street parties, attended by large masses of people armed with noisemakers, firecrackers and whistles intended to make a big bang. Popular outdoor parties and concerts are held each year at Nyugati tér and at the Oktogon intersection, as well as at Vörösmarty tér.
For something extra special opt to attend the trotting racetrack at Kincsem Park, the last operational horse racetrack in the capital. From 2 to 7 pm on New Year’s Eve well-known race horses, gallop and trotting races, alongside concerts and warm food will be keeping spirits high at this unique venue.