On the evening of October 31st, finding a parking spot near Hungarian cemeteries can be quite a challenge. Bundled up in warm clothing to ward off the autumn chill, you might have to stroll a bit to reach your destination. It’s a moment when Hungarians collectively commemorate the departed, and this tradition unites people of all ages.
Families traditionally engage in the practice of cleaning and sprucing up graves on this special day. Many visitors bring fresh flowers and candles, either purchasing them just outside the cemetery’s entrance or arriving well-prepared with these offerings in hand. In fact, I’ve observed that most people come equipped with not just flowers and candles, but also small decorations to lovingly place on the graves of their dearly departed. It’s a heartwarming sight to see the thoughtful preparations that go into honoring the memory of loved ones during this time.
They welcome everyone, whether or not you have a beloved family member or friend resting within their hallowed grounds. Even without a personal connection inside, my companions and I entered as guests to witness the captivating and poignant commemoration of the departed.
As we stepped inside, we were greeted by the heartwarming sight of families arriving, their faces adorned with smiles and animated conversations filling the air. They carried armfuls of fresh flowers, potted plants, and an array of candles in all shapes and sizes. It was a delightful surprise to see such a variety of candles and candle holders available on the shelves in the weeks leading up to All Saints’ Day.
The sheer diversity of offerings and the warm atmosphere of these cemeteries made it evident why people put so much thought and care into their preparations. The experience was a touching reminder of the unity and reverence that surrounds this beautiful celebration of the departed.
Early on, as I stepped into the cemetery, one observation that stood out was the presence of benches positioned beside graves. These benches came in various styles, ranging from traditional park benches to more elaborate ones crafted from marble or stone.
As I strolled through this remarkably beautiful “park of memories,” I couldn’t help but notice a scene that touched my heart deeply. I came across a woman sitting at one of these benches, engaged in cheerful conversation as if her departed loved one was very much alive. She lovingly arranged the flowers, and it was a sight filled with warmth and tenderness.
Respecting the moment, I quietly turned and began to walk in the opposite direction. But what struck me was the absence of sadness in the atmosphere. It was a celebration of the deceased, brimming with affection and a sense of continuity. The cemetery, with its benches, flowers, and the lively spirit of remembrance, truly painted a picture of love and connection that transcended the boundary between the living and the departed.
All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day celebrations in Hungary can be described with three words: Traditional, Spiritual, and Commemorative.
Traditional: These celebrations in Hungary have a long history and are deeply rooted in tradition. People visit cemeteries to remember their loved ones who have passed away. Lighting candles, decorating graves with flowers, and offering prayers are common customs that have been practiced for generations.
Spiritual: All Saints and All Souls Days hold significant spiritual importance. On All Saints Day (November 1st), Hungarians honor saints and martyrs, while on All Souls Day (November 2nd), they remember and pray for the souls of their deceased family members and friends. It’s a time for reflection and connecting with one’s faith.
Commemorative: These days are all about remembering and honoring the deceased. Families often gather at cemeteries to pay their respects, and the atmosphere is filled with a sense of commemoration and remembrance. It’s a time to share stories, anecdotes, and memories of those who have passed on, keeping their legacies alive.
Overall, these celebrations in Hungary are a blend of tradition, spirituality, and commemoration, creating a meaningful and culturally rich observance.
Also referred to as the Day of the Dead, the Christian holiday (a Solemnity in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church) was officially recognized by the church in 835 AD.
According to folklore tradition, on All Saints’ Day, the table is set for the dead too with bread, salt, and water. In Bukovina, Hungarians bake and cook meals for the dead which they distribute at the cemetery. Also according to folklore tradition, it was believed that whoever’s candle (lit at home) burnt out first, would be the first person to die in the family!
In Szeged, Hungarians used to bake “the beggar’s cake” which was a hollow cake, and distribute to beggars at the cemetery’s gate so they too could commemorate their dead.
Similarly, the freshly baked cake was distributed to praying beggars at Csallóköz’s cemetery gates so the dead would not return home.
Folklore traditions can evolve with time, and in Hungary, All Saints Day is a prime example of this transformation. In the past, folklore and superstition associated working on this day with an act akin to disrespecting or attacking the deceased.
Today, All Saints Day has taken on a new form. It has become a national public holiday in Hungary, with a strong emphasis on family bonds and paying tribute to those who have passed away. Families often gather for church services and share a meal at home. In places like Szeged, where I found myself, the streets were notably quiet as shops and restaurants closed, encouraging families to spend quality time together.
One cherished tradition that remains is the custom of lighting a candle for each beloved individual who has departed this world. This act is a poignant way to remember and honor those who are no longer with us.
For me, someone who didn’t typically observe such customs in my country of birth, this day turned out to be exceptionally meaningful. After our visit to the cemetery, when I lit those candles, it was done with a profound sense of mindfulness and deep love for my parents. It was a moment that brought me joy, making me keenly aware that regardless of where I am in the world, the spirits of my departed loved ones are always with me in my heart.
While it may not hold the status of a national public holiday, this day serves as an extension of All Saints Day in Hungary, and it is dedicated to commemorating the souls of the departed. What’s especially remarkable is that this observance transcends religious beliefs, uniting people in a common act of remembrance.
Much like its predecessor, All Souls Day sees people lighting candles that burn throughout the day. These candles symbolize the enduring presence of the departed in the lives of those who remember them. It’s a time for reflection, where individuals recall the cherished memories and happy moments they shared with their loved ones who are no longer here in the physical world.
This heartfelt and universal act of lighting candles and reflecting on the joyous times spent with the deceased demonstrates the power of remembrance, love, and the enduring connection people feel with those who have passed away.