Saint Stephen’s Day in Hungary comes every 20 August to remember Saint Stephen, the king who led Hungary into the folds of Christendom.
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Hungary began to be a nation when the nomadic Magyars of Russia’s Ural Mountain region migrated south to the Danube and then upstream to a wide flatland area in central Europe. They were pagans, and they raided Christian kingdoms to the west and south for many years in the 10th Century A.D.
King Arpad led in the unification of the Hungarian tribes in his so-called “homeland conquest,” and King Geza later made a few small moves towards peacefully integrating Hungary with Christian Europe. But it fell to Stephen I, whose reign began in the year 1000, to oversee the conversion of Hungary to Roman Catholicism.
First, Stephen defeated his pagan uncle, named Koppany, in a major battle that gave him the throne. Next, he applied to the sitting Pope, Sylvester II, and was recognised as a true king and given a royal insignia that many believe was incorporated into the physical crown of Hungary. He led the nation into Christendom, consolidated the kingdom, moved towards a feudal-style state, and even adopted Latin as the official language of Hungary.
On 20 August 1083, King Stephen was declared a Catholic saint, and his relics were moved to Budapest, which is the reason for the date of Hungarian Saint Stephen’s Day.
Hungarians celebrate Saint Stephen’s Day as a patriotic day as well as a religious one. They remember Saint Stephen as the founder of the kingdom and the leader of the national conversion to Christianity. All day, the celebrations continue, with fireworks, parades, special masses, and other events.
The love of Hungarians for Saint Stephen’s Day, in fact, is so intense that the decades-long attempt, beginning in 1949, to replace it with a Communist-backed “Constitution Day” completely failed.