Saint Stephen's Day 2017 and 2018
Saint Stephen’s Day in Hungary has a different meaning than in other countries. In most places, it comes on December 26th to remember the first Christian martyr, Stephen, whose death by stoning is recorded in the Book of Acts. In Hungary, it comes on August 20th to remember a different 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 if 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 August 20th, 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.
If in Hungary for Saint Stephen’s Day celebrations, here are some events to attend:
- See the Hungarian flag ceremonially raised in Budapest on Saint Stephen’s Day morning to mark the beginning of festivities. There will be many events, including such things as an open day to tour the Hungarian parliament building, a ceremonial cutting of the “official cake of Hungary,” fireworks on both banks of the Danube River, open air concerts, and the Street of Hungarian Flavours, where you can taste a little bit of Hungary.
- Attend high mass at the Saint Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest. The service normally takes place around 5pm, and there will be a procession through the streets, during which the purported relic of Saint Stephen’s right hand that is housed in the basilica. The Basilica is among the tallest structures in all Budapest and a major tourist attraction.
- Go to Buda Castle to attend the Festival of Folk Arts held there every year on Saint Stephen’s Day Weekend. You will see traditional craftsmen at work, including such arts as egg painting and wood carving, and tourists are allowed to try their hand at the crafts. There will also be dancing, Hungarian folk music, wine tasting, and plenty of Hungarian foods and pastries to taste.
Anyone who visits Hungary during Saint Stephen’s Day celebrations will immediately see how revered Saint Stephen is in this country, and they will find many fun and interesting activities to take part in.
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