Anytime you move to a new country, you're whisked up in a flurry of new customs, habits, and traditions. Hungary is no exception to this rule - besides the holidays celebrated in most of Europe, it also has a couple of national celebrations reflecting the rich history of the country. Here is a list to inform you about the most important holidays, and what you can expect in terms of shops being open and public transport.
The first day of the New Year is special in every country, and usually comes with a list of foods to eat for luck. Most Hungarians eat lentils in some form to attract wealth. Eating fish will make money "swim away", while poultry will make luck "fly away". Public transport operates as normal, while shops have special opening times. You are able to buy groceries to help with hangover, but specialty shops often only open the day after.
On this day, Hungarians commemorate the 1848 Revolution (which aimed the independence of the Hungarian Kingdom from the Austrian Empire). There are usually speeches and music pieces (e.g. Nemzeti dal) performed; many people wear a cockade with the national colours (red, white and green). Shops are closed, public transport operates on public holiday schedule.
Good Friday is a fairly recent addition to the list of national holidays, since it was only introduced in 2017. Easter Monday is celebrated in a peculiar way, to encourage fertility and growth. Men visit women to sprinkle them with perfume (or in the countryside, sometimes water), first asking permission by reciting a short, often funny poem. In return, the women give the men eggs (sometimes painted, sometimes chocolate). Children receive chocolate eggs (sometimes fruits and nuts, chocolate rabbits), from the Easter Bunny; these gifts are sometimes hidden in the garden or house. The day's meal is often ham, eggs, and sweetbreads for dinner. Shops are closed, and public transport operates on public holiday schedule.
Labour Day coincides with May Day (majális). Most Hungarians enjoy the day off somewhere in nature, taking advantage of the good weather, and visiting fairs in parks. Since 2004 it is also the anniversary of the accession to the EU, so the countries of the EU are represented with special programs, bridges are decorated and exhibitions are held. Shops are closed, and public transport operates on public holiday schedule.
Taking place 49 days after Easter, Pentecost is the perfect holiday to celebrate spring and glorious weather. Most Hungarians go hiking, or enjoy the company of their family. Shops are closed, and public transport operates on public holiday schedule.
Hungary's first king St. Stephen's Day, also the day of the Foundation of Hungary and "the day of the new bread". St. Stephen of Hungary (Szent István király in Hungarian) (ca. 975 – 15 August 1038), as the first king of Hungary, led the country into the Christian church and established the institutions of the kingdom and the church. He was canonized on 20 August 1083, and 20 August is his feast day.Celebrated with a half-hour fireworks display on the bank of the Danube in the evening, which is attended by many people on both river banks and is watched by many from the hills on the Buda side of the river and from the rooftops of both Pest and Buda. Shops are closed, and public transport operates on public holiday schedule.
Memorial day of the 1956 Revolution (which – inter alia – aimed at the departure of the Soviet troops from Hungary and free elections). Also the day of the proclamation of the Third Hungarian Republic (1989). Celebrated with speeches and exhibitions. Shops are closed, and public transport operates on public holiday schedule.
Day of remembrance of the dead. Graves in Christian cemeteries are decorated with flowers and candles, by family and friends of the dead. Shops are closed, and public transport operates on public holiday schedule.
Public transport stops operating at about 4 pm on the 24th ("Szenteste") as most families gather to celebrate, placing presents under a Christmas tree which has been decorated while the children are away from the house. Presents are then opened and a large meal eaten in celebration of the event. On 25th and 26th, people usually visit relatives. Shops are closed, and public transport operates on public holiday schedule.