It’s no secret that I love seeing how Hungarian holidays are celebrated, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I returned before one of their biggest. August 20th is known as St. Stephen’s Day, and it’s basically their main national holiday.
But why? Who is this Stephen anyway?
St. Stephen was the first king of Hungary, and he was responsible for the foundation of the country. It was already a unified group of tribes, but it wasn’t very organized. He had the brilliant idea of getting the blessing of the pope and converting the people to Christianity. This helped Hungary become an officially recognized kingdom in the year 1000. This date was chosen for the celebration because Stephen was canonized on August 20th, 1083.
History is important, but fireworks are better.
Yes, you guessed right, there are fireworks on August 20th. Missing my own 4th of July celebrations, I was eager to take part in the big Hungarian holiday. More importantly, I was looking forward to watching things explode. I love fireworks.
Still not used to the time change, I spend half of the night awake and much of the day asleep. Fortunately the Budapest firework show was at night, so it wouldn’t be an issue. The only problem was that I didn’t know exactly when (or where) they would be.
I was trying to meet some of my friends at an unknown time and an unknown place – we had clearly planned out a lot of details. As I wandered out into the streets of Budapest, I had the eerie feeling of being in an alien invasion movie. Every street heading towards the Danube River was full of people. The small roads didn’t have as many, but the major boulevards were closed to cars and were instead full of people.
Seizing a rare opportunity, I walked down the middle of a huge street and out on to one of the giant bridges. The river is wide, so the bridges are high. Both sides had a wall of people blocking the railings, so I could comfortably walk where the cars would normally drive. It was much more relaxing than feeling like I’m about to fall to my death in raging water.
It wasn’t quite dark enough yet, so I went back on the land to explore some more. I decided to meet my friends after wandering for a while, but we were on opposite sides of the river. I went to a bridge, and it was closed – again like an alien invasion movie. I guess it was right under where some of the fireworks were going to be shot.
Not willing to pass up another rare chance, I trudged along the tram tracks that parallel the river. The area was full of people, but I had a clear path to the next bridge – almost. Finally, I ran out of space and had to turn back to get to the streets where I could walk.
About a block from the river, I heard an explosion.
It was just my luck, I’d had an amazing view for about an hour, and the fireworks started as soon as I didn’t. I went back and watched the 30 minute show from a park, but it wasn’t the greatest vantage point. There were at least three or four launching sites for the fireworks, but I could only see one and a half of them. Fortunately, I was right next to a barge shooting them off, so it wasn’t a total loss.
In the end, I realized it was a great way to get back into the pessimistic Hungarian mindset. Of course I wouldn’t have a good view of the fireworks, it was a Hungarian holiday. Something had to go wrong.
Hungarian word of the day:
Pronounced Eesht-van. This means “Stephen”. Not surprisingly, it’s a very popular name for Hungarian boys.