August 20th, St Stephen’s Day, is the biggest day of the year in Hungary. The day commemorates Stephen I, the first King of Hungary, being canonized in 1083 (45 years after his death) by Pope Gregory VII for bringing Christianity to the people of Hungary. The actual feast day for St Stephen is the 16th of August, but it is celebrated on the 20th as that’s the day the king’s relics arrived in Budapest.
The national holiday sees festivals across the country with the most significant national events taking place in the capital city of Budapest. Folks tend to kick things off the night before with a family meal at home. On the morning of the 20th, the Hungarian flag is raised in a ceremony at Heroes’ Square in Budapest. Religious observances include a special mass at St Stephen’s Basilica followed by a procession of the king’s relics around the church. The night is alive with concerts and fireworks displays, the biggest being in Budapest where people crowd rooftops, line the banks of Danube River to watch. Another popular way to experience the fireworks is to take to the river itself for a scenic dinner cruise replete with traditional Hungarian cuisine and wine.
This year St Stephen’s Day in Budapest promises to be an excellent time to be in the city. A “Street of Hungarian Flavors” along the Danube embankment in Budea from 10am and running the early evening will offer a taste of some of the country’s most delectable treats. Outdoor concerts will commence from 10am as as well at the city’s iconic Chain Bridge. High Mass at the Basilica begins at 5pm with the procession of the king’s relics starting soon after.
Starting on the day and running through the weekend is a Festival of Folk Arts held in Buda Castle. A popular yearly event, the 2015 festival will be the 29th annual Festival of Folk Arts and will run for four days. The theme of 2015 will be “the life of shepherds” but opportunities will be plentiful to learn about and experience a variety of crafts and traditions, many of which date back to the days of St Stephen or even earlier.