A couple of villages over sits the village of Zalavár. Zala is the name of the Hungarian county we live in and vár is Hungarian for castle. Back in the day, many centuries ago, Zalavár was a metropolis, boasting a monastery, a convent, a brewery, and a castle of course. Today, it’s one of a string of villages that loop around the lesser-known Hungarian lake, the Kis-Balaton. Read more
The first Easter I spent in my flat in Budapest, the doorbell rang on Easter Monday morning. I was a tad taken aback as I wasn’t expecting visitors. In the year I’d been living in the city I’d come to realise that, unlike Ireland, no one dropped by without calling first. For some reason, it’s simply not done.
When I opened the door to two Hungarian friends, they started to recite a poem that suggested I was a withered blue violet in need of watering (?!) – Zöld erdőben jártam, kék ibolyát láttam, el akart hervadni, szabad-e locsolni? and then proceeded to sprinkle me with perfume. I was surprised. Not because of the poem and the perfume ‒ I’d heard of locsolkodás (the sprinkling) ‒ but because my friend had brought his girlfriend along to do the deed. I had thought than that this was something boys did to show their interest in a girl. I thought wrong.
It all dates back to the days when young farmworkers would throw a bucket of cold water over young women of marriageable age. This gradually evolved to include all ages, be they marriageable or married, of interest or not. Cold water has since been replaced by perfume, mainly in the cities, but there are still places in the country where the Easter Monday drenching holds fast, places where it still has some significance for the marriageable. Mind you, it would be rather disheartening to doll yourself up and then wait for the arrival of an admirer for him never to appear. Or, worse still, when he had appeared, recited his poem, sprinkled his perfume and received his painted egg, his homemade cakes, and his beverage of choice, for him to skip along next door to the next girl in line and leave you sitting pretty.
In cities like Budapest though, modernity has won out. I’ve never seen any of my neighbours being sprinkled; I myself have not had a drenching since. And somewhat irrationally, I find that very sad. I’m partial to a good tradition, one that stands the test of time, no matter how uncool it might seem to some to be. I’m particularly partial to the Hungarian tradition of taking a basket of food to mass on Nagyszombat (Holy Saturday) to have it blessed by the priest. It’s quite the spectacle to see baskets filled with kalács (traditional Easter braided bread), red eggs and salt lining the altar steps.
Another favourite of mine this time of year in Hungary is the decorated egg and the nénis (older ladies) from the countryside who come to the city to sell them. Some are painted, some are engraved, some are embroidered, some are beaded, and perhaps the rarest are decorated with tiny metal horseshoes (if you ever find one of these, get me one, too – thanks). All are beautiful.
Chocolate eggs didn’t come to Hungary until the beginning of the nineteenth century and even now, most are handcrafted artisan pieces rather than the mass-produced ones that overflow the supermarket shelves in the UK and Ireland.
A tradition I’m a tad leery of, though, is the sibálás. On Palm Sunday, older boys weave sibas (whips) which can be up to a metre long. In Pázmánd, for example, on Easter Monday, when the rest of the country is contemplating perfume, the boys visit the girls’ houses and after reciting the obligatory poem urging them to be fresher in a year and not as lazy as they are now (?!) ‒ Esztend‘re frissebb légy Ne olyan lusta, mint most! ‒ start to whip them. Mmmm … not so sure about that one, lads.
First published in the Budapest Times 3 April 2015
As I child, I gave up chocolate each Lent. I’d hoard every bar I was given as a present until Easter Sunday when I’d gorge on the lot and make myself ill. My idea of sacrifice wasn’t to do without but rather to delay gratification.
Easter Sunday 2014 has come and is almost gone. I’ve a lot deadlines on right now so most of this holiday was spent in front of my computer. To a greater or lesser extent, it was a day like any other, yet I still expected it to be full of Easter bonnets, Easter eggs, and roast lamb dinner. But it wasn’t.
In fact, the only thing that made it different to any other day this week was that I went to Mass. And technically, as I go to Mass every Sunday, that in and of itself didn’t do much to separate it from the other 50+ Sundays in the year. But today, two things stood out.
About half-way during Mass, a middle-aged woman a couple of seats in front of me stood up. The rest of the church was sitting, but she continued to stand, blocking the view of those sitting behind her. Her muttered mumblings to whom I assume was her daughter or daughter-in-law (given the husband and two kids she had in tow) led me to believe that (a) either the cushion on the seat was cold/wet or (b) the pew was too hard. In any event, stand she did. And stand out she did, too.
I was reminded of an encounter on a bus in Malta a few months ago. A woman with a young child got on the bus and sat towards the back. The child (about 3 or 4) was acting up so the mum told him that he should watch how quiet everyone else was being, and behave exactly the same. For some reason I had a horrendous vision of the Holocaust, one that confusingly flashed in front of me with a background narration of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. I’m still deliberating….
Studying this woman today though, she seemed perfectly at ease with standing up (and out); it was those around her who seemed disconcerted. It left me wondering about conformity and who benefits most.
The second involved the Crown of Thorns that I noticed at the base of the cross on the altar. I’d not seen it before, although the church has been decorating the altar in the same way for the all the years I’ve been going there. It struck a chord, perhaps because last night I watched one of many episodes in the first series of Prison Break, in which John imagines seeing the head of Jesus, crown and all, as He hung on the cross. The rust stains in his cell he sees as Christ’s Blood. He then goes out to kill another inmate, but instead, forgives him (having found the Lord), only to have yer man turn and kill him instead. Is there no justice in the world?
In some convoluted way, with some random word association and image processing going on in a chocolate-starved brain perhaps, I began to think about the crown of thorns that each of us wears. Some of us have little choice but to keep suffering, to keep wearing our Cancer or our MS or our Hunger, but I suspect that many more of us could simply take off our crowns of thorns off. We have a choice, one we choose too often to ignore.
After a week that was longer and more intense than usual, I’m grateful that today was the day it was, a quiet day with two clear messages. (1) Stand up for what I believe in no matter how uncomfortable it makes others feel. (2) Be conscious that almost everything in life involves a choice…and I can choose to say no.
Happy Easter to one and all. Hope someone is making up for my chocolate deficiency 🙂