Prelude: This has effectively become the last entry of my Somogy Tales. As of Monday, July 16, I have left Hungary and have returned to life with my family back in Belarus. Hopefully those of you following the blog enjoyed the tales. If you are on the real estate market, last I heard the property is still on the market. My lack of capability in sales, though, is potentially your gain. To read more, visit here.
Sulinet posted a great cultural study on the region where Gadany is situated (“Mesztegnyő: a Hungarian village that is home to a hundred stories”). Being adjacent, much of the history of the two villages are shared. That proved of great help when trying to figure out Gadany for the first time.
One of the chapters in the book (“A vízvirágtól a piros almáig”) described the traditions behind the saint days of a neighboring Somogy village. Being in a Catholic country, Hungarian villages tend to have lengthy traditions that were not interrupted by the stodginess of Protestant ideology, many of which are thinly-disguised pagan rites couched in Christian terminology. Studying the superstitions involved is really quite fun, especially when the origins are not so easily traced.
Again, my purpose of writing these Somogy Tales was to help potential buyers of a farm come to understand the place in which they would be buying, and maybe be more taken by the idea to relocate here. However, in the study, I found the region is rich in tradition. The village is very long in history. That it was the only village in the area to survive the holocaust of the Mongols in the middle of the 13th century should mark it as something quite special.
In any case, I wanted to share these traditions to an English-speaking audience. For the Hungarian version, visit here.
The calendar, its holidays, countless beliefs, and rules about weather are well-followed in Mesztegnyő. These are not simply fun celebrations or commemorations, but represent the many fertility rites that were practiced throughout the year for all those who followed those customs. Folk beliefs, fortune telling, and centuries-old experiences and observations reside in these community traditions.
The village has learned to treasure these traditions in recent decades, particularly after so many have faded from memory. Lajos Király, the ethnographer, made a collection of the more common folk customs of the county in one of his publications. It was from this that the following Mesztegnyő traditions and beliefs were first published:
January 1, New Year’s Day (Újév Napja): According to László Banicz and “Aunt Rozi,” early on this day, flower branches are to be put to water early and items that need to be washed must be washed early by those girls seeking good fortune.
January 6, Epiphany or the Three Kings Day (Vízkereszt, Háromkirályok Napja): Ferenc Gönczi described the local traditions around Three Kings Day in the 1930s, but in 1992, the village had published the local folk saying: “If the water is ice, / long will it take to turn nice, / but if it is mild, foretell / in February the weather will be well” (“Ha fagyos a vízkereszt, / soká tart, míg fölereszt, / ám ha enyhe, olvadásos, / hózimankós februárt hoz.”)
January 22. St. Vincent’s Day (Vince Napja). A rule of weather: “If St. Vincent’s Day shines plenty, / then the wine cellar you should empty.” (“Hogyha szépön fénylik Vince, / mëgtellik borral a pince.”). This means that if the sun is out, it is best to start drinking up the wine, as there will be a lot more new wine to be stored around harvest time.
January 25, St. Paul’s Day (Pál Napja). Many years ago, girls placed a flour sieve on a table, held hands and circled round. They would then ask: “St. Peter and Paul, turn this sieve over, tell me the age to which I will live.” (“Szent Péter és Pál fordítsd meg a rostát, ez meg ez hány évig él.”) So said Istvanne Foki in 1970.
February 2, Candlemas (Gyertyaszentelő Boldogasszony Napja). At the base of every tree there were candles burning, often so many that it melted the snow at the base of each tree.
February 3: St. Blaise Day (Balázs napja. Balázs-áldás): This day is an old Catholic custom. At Mesztegnyő, after mass, the priest of the church would bless two candles, form them into a cross, and then place the cross under the chins of those who attended, and those who believed would find their throats blessed so that they would avoid a sore throat. Boys would collect donations for St. Blaise, patron saints of students, for the benefit of the school and the church. This continued until the Second World War, and presumably restarted again after the fall of Communism.
February 14, St. Valentine’s Day (Bálint Napja): In Mesztegnyő, this day usually meant that the snowfalls would end, and marked the day that winter usually breaks.
February 22, St. Peter’s Day (Üszökös Szent Péter Napja): Work was not started on this day for fear of contracting gangrene. A winter weather prediction was given for this day: “If St. Peter is misty, / the shed will be history.” (“Ha ködös Péter, / üszkös a fészer.”)
February 24, St. Matthew’s Day (Mátyás Napja): This was another day that determined the weather in Mesztegnyő; a goose egg was blessed under the popular belief that how the gosling turned out will predict whether things will be good, not bad, or just about the same.
Carnival (Farsang): Carnival was held on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. In Mesztegnyő, the workers and the poor celebrated in the pub, including craftsmen, foresters, fishermen (who gathered at the pub on Cseh Utca), among others. Young people did not mix (boys with girls), and everyone celebrated within their own social group. On Shrove Tuesday evening was typically a long and happy celebration that ended with the midnight bell. Locally, this was the start of Lent. The evening meal typically included carnival donuts, made of dough that comprised a healthy number of eggs, and baked pretzels. On Sunday, everyone received their mask, which they wore on the last day of Carnival. In Mesztegnyő, Shrove Tuesday is still very much a tradition. Young people wear masks, men dress as women (brides, nuns, etc.), their faces covered. The women carried brooms, bottles of wine for men, and made threats at passers-by. The masks were happy, there was much shouting and dancing, and people gathered in large groups where everyone tried to unmask each other. At houses, donuts, pretzels, and even eggs were served.
Practical jokes were played on girls: on Shrove Tuesday night, doors were strung shut, and in the morning, girls were only able to get out of their homes if the screws holding the strings were pulled out. None too flattering songs were sung of some girls, who are “auctioned a donkey”:
“Shortly ends carnival / the girls are sad / and their great sadness / will produce wrinkled cheeks. / You cannot get married / though you look for a groom. / Take it to the church, / begin to pray! / Carnival, Shrove, / the girls are leaving. / Shari prays, / praying to Mary. / The donkey is begging for / a Mesztegnyő nanny.”
(“Véget ért a rövid farsang, / búsulnak a lányok, / ettől a nagy búsulástól / ráncos a pofájuk. / Nem tudsz férjhez menni, / vőlegényt keresni. / Vedd elő az olvasódat, / kezdj el imádkozni! / Húshagyó, húshagyó, / lányokat itt hagyó. / Imádkozik Sári, / imádkozik Mári. / Szamárháton úgy könyörög / a mesztegnyői Náni.”)
Meanwhile, the dancing continued until midnight. Most of these traditions are continued to this day.
Agricultural traditions are also associated with this day. If you place in all four corners of the home wine, even in bad weather, this is supposed to bring about good harvest. Cabbage seeds are sown on this day. It is also said that if women rest this day at noon, eggs will be plentiful all year around.
Ash Wednesday: This was a day of strict fasting, in which fat could not be used in stews. In Mesztegnyő, boiled eggs, corn, and red pepper cake were the typical foods. In the church, the devil was warded off by a bit of ash in a container, with a bit of it placed on the forehead by the priest. It was not good luck to wash off this ash. And it was said that as Christ went to his death, so too will those who do not enter into a fast for Lent. The day after, a small festival is held, after which the musicians would not play for the remainder of Lent.
March 19, St. Joseph’s Day (József-nap): In Mesztegnyő, if the wind blew on St. Joseph’s day, it was predicted that it would blow for weeks. Good weather meant that there would be plenty of good days ahead. A rainbow on St. Joseph’s Day also was a forecast: if the color looked good, everyone could expect a good crop. If the rainbow was purpler, it meant lots of wine. If it was more greenish, then lots of grain. If it was more yellowish, then lots of corn.
Lent (Nagyböjt): The 40-day fast has some distinctive traditions in Somogy, but in our present day, many of the details are unclear. In the fourth week before Easter, there is a tradition in Mesztegnyő that goes: if a chick is born from a goose or a hen, then the chick must be tied down with a small coil in order for the hen washer to avoid getting “chicken legs.” A more pleasant tradition states that the health of the crop is developed from the health of the pepper plants.
Good Friday (Nagypéntek): In the morning, tradition has it that you should not put on a fire very early, as cockroaches, bedbugs and other creatures always watch for the chimney smoke. He who sets the first fire rallies all the worms, tradition holds.
Easter (Húsvét): After the food is blessed at church, everyone tried to get home as quickly as possible, as it was said whoever gets home first will get the first crop. In Mesztegnyő, there were devout believers who went barefoot to church to express their devotion to religious truths, then ran back home, because he who comes home first will be welcomed. Easter egg shells colored with red wheat are given especially to girls so that when they washed their faces on Pentecost morning, they would have no freckles.
April 14, St. Tibor Day (Tibor Napja): This day forecasts the weather in that if the cherry trees are blossoming, the vines will also be good. If the crops are beautiful and green, a good harvest can be expected.
April 24, St. George’s Day (Szent György Napja): If cucumbers are sowed on this day, tradition has it that they will not be bitter. This is the last day to protect the crop against witches: the prescribed protection was to go to the forest and take birch branches, and place them on the window handles. Supposedly witches would not dare enter the home of anyone who dares put up such a totem on their windows. It is said that girls who washed on that morning would not suffer any freckles, but instead would be nice and healthy. The dew of St. George’s Day is said to be the result of the Turkish occupation, that when one Turkish leader was captured, he put forth a curse while on his knees in front of the Hungarian army that there would always be rain on the day of the country’s patron saint.
May 6, John the Beaneater Day (Babevő János Napja): In Mesztegnyő, this was the earliest time that beans should be planted, as they will not sprout before late frosts can damage them.
May 12-14, The Cold Saints Days (A Fagyosszentek Napjai, the “Cold Saints” being Saints Pongrác, Szervác, Bonifác, and sometimes Orbán): Rain on these days was a good omen for the fields, but a bad one for the grapes.
May 16, St. John of Nepomuk Day (Nepomuki Szent János Napja): In Bohemia, John of Nepomuk was the priest who received the queen’s confession. He refused to betray the secrets of her confessional to King Wenceslas, and so he was exiled to Moldavia. He is popular among the people, regarded as the patron saint of those who love the water, and the church in Mesztegnyő is named for him. His martyrdom is depicted within the church in paintings by Dorffmaister.
May 25, St. Urban’s Day (Orbán Napja): After the Cold Saint’s Day, this is the next important forecasting day. On St. Urban’s Day, rain is good for the peppers and cucumbers (because otherwise it may freeze).
June 8, St Swithin’s Day (Medárd Napja): On St. Swithin’s Day, the farmer that plants cabbage this day can expect a good harvest.
June 24, St. John the Baptist’s Day or Midsummer’s Day (Szent Iván Napja): The summer solstice was a celebration of ancient rites mixed in with Christian beliefs. Early in the spread of Christianity, Byzantine traditions were mixed in with southern Slav influences. In Somogy, the ancient rites formed into a major cult. Midsummer fires and the custom of jumping those fires were part of the settlements in the area of the Drava River since the time of King Lajos I. However, in Mesztegnyő, these practices were restored only recently by Tiborné Kövesdi in the homeland studies group. However, the age-old customs may have been in continuous use through at least 1901, when they were publicized in Ethnográfia magazine (“Midsummers Day Traditions” or “Szent Iván-napi népszokások” by József Hosszú and János Szabó).
June 29, St. Peter and Paul Day (Péter és Pál Napja): This was the day that the harvest began. No matter the weather, the farmers went out to the fields and prayed for their fields. They would take a couple of branches and form a cross, over which they would pray for their plantings to grow well.
July 2, Visitation of Our Lady Day (Sarlós Boldogasszony Napja): On this Roman Catholic holiday, the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth were said to visit the Marian shrines on this day. In Mesztegnyő, it was said that using the sickle on this day would bring rain for 40 days.
July 25, St. James Day (Jakab Napja): If the sky is clear, there will be lots of fruit during the harvest. The oat harvest began by this time.
August 10, St. Lawrence Day (Lőrinc Napja): If the weather was nice, a sunny autumn and a good wine harvest could be expected.
September 1, St. Giles Day (Egyed Napja): If the weather is good, then the autumn would produce many good wines. On this day in Mesztegnyő, nursing mothers went to the church and asked for the intercession of St. Giles, and prayed for the health of their little ones.
September 8, The Virgin’s Day (Kisasszony Napja): Birth date of the Virgin Mary, a major holiday. In Somogy, Catholics believed that a youthful Mary can be seen during sunrise, crowned by the rising sun. Mesztegnyő women, therefore, got up at dawn on this day and watched the sunrise. According to tradition, the only ones who could see Mary in the sunrise were those who deserved to do so.
September 29, St. Michael’s Day (Szent Mihály Napja): The pastors who preached on St. George’s Day also did so on St. Michael’s Day. This was a day of reckoning. By 1815, an annual protocol was already established where in Mesztegnyő, the two major feast days of the year were that of St. John of Nepomuk and St. Michael’s Day. On both days, a special mass was held for the faithful.
October 20, St. Wendel’s Day (Vendel Napja): This was the day of the patron saint of livestock farmers, herders, and especially shepherds. In Mesztegnyő, the square in front of Újvári-ház features a statue erected in this saint’s honor, called the Wendel image. Religious processions are held between it and the church.
November 1 and 2, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (Mindenszentek és Halottak Napja): A litany was held at the cemetery on the hill during the evening of All Saints’ Day. Candles were placed on the graves of relatives and prayers were said. Typical dishes served on this day included roast duck, pork (stewed or fried), cabbage, and strudel. Usually, dinners commemorated long-dead family members, and uneaten food was left on the table for the dead to share until morning.
November 25, St. Catherine’s Day (Katalin Napja). This is the saint day for women with this popular given name, and because of the name’s popularity, a ball is usually held in the village. A weather prediction says that if the sun comes knocking on St. Catherine’s Day, on Christmas there will be little sunlight.
November 30, St. Andrew’s Day (András Napja). The anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Andrew marks the start of Christmas festivities. It also meant for girls a time to forecast important things about their future husband. In Mesztegnyő, that night the girls would approach the left side of their bed and utter:
“My mind is open, / St. Andrew, I ask, / whisper to me in the night, / and tell me about my husband.”
(“Ágyamba lépök, / Szent Andrást kéröm, / sugjad mög az éjjel, / ki lössz majd a férjem.”)
The girl then waited for her future husband to appear to her in her dreams that night. During the day, the girls used to fast, eating only three wheat dishes, drinking only a drop of water, all in order to dream that night of who will be her future man.
On St. Andrew’s day, the girls would also make dumplings, 13 altogether. On each, they would write the name of the boy they wanted to marry on them. They put them in the water and boil them, and this ensures that this will be the name of their future husband.
December 13, St. Lucy’s Day (Luca Napja): This was a significant day for village housewives. This was the day that decides how many chickens would go “broody” or lay eggs. They prayed to St. Lucy of Syracuse for his favor in almost a spell-like rite to ensure that more chickens would lay. The men went off to swipe wood for the woman, and the women would sprinkle ground corn over the swiped wood and lead the following incantation:
Good morning Lucy / Lucy is in bed / but nothing is in bed with her / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő (verbatim incantation) / (male responds) I have two as well. / The judge has two on his back / the bookkeeper has two there as well. / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő / I have two as well. / Your daughter will have a pair of breasts like flagons of wine, and out of her rear farts will come out like smoke from a chimney. / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő / I have two as well. / You will have as many chickens as the stars in the sky, or blades of grass on the ground / the pigs will have fat as thick as a ceiling beam. / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő / I have two as well / The cow will have as much milk as water in a well to make butter and cheese. / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő / I have two as well.
Jó rögget a Lucának / Luca fekszik ágyában / Szóma sincs az ágyába / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő, / neköm is van kettő / Bíró hátán teknyő / benne ül a jegyző. / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő / neköm is van kettő. / Kentöknek a lányának akkora csöcsei lögyenek, mint a bugyogós korsó, / A seggin úgy gyűjjön a fing, mint a kéményön a füst. / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő / neköm is van kettő / Kentöknek annyi csirkéje lögyön, mint égön a csillag, fődön a fűszál / Olyan vastag szalonnája lögyön a disznajának, mint a mestergerenda / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő, / neköm is van kettő / Kentöknek annyi teje lögyön, túró,vaj, mint kútba a víz / Kity-koty gelegonya kettő, / neköm is van kettő.
After St. Lucy’s Day, the Twelve Days of Christmas follow, a period that was also used to forecast the weather for the coming year. According to tradition, each day represented one month of the year to come, from January to December. The girls likewise waited for the approach of Advent. They would write 13 different names of boys on pieces of paper, and then roll them up in balls of paper, throwing 12 into the fire. The one left over would be her future husband.
These days, as a result of St. Lucy being unable to be moved, (according to her story, when sentenced to forced prostitution by Roman authorities, not even a team of oxen could move her), the saying went that if something was happening too slowly, it was “like Lucy’s chair.”
An old saying of this region, they were said to have witches. To find out who is the witch and where she is coming from, a boy once found a way to find her. This was the trick he used on St. Lucy’s Day. His trick he began on December 13, and he tried something new every day. The boy went to church for Christmas Midnight Mass in order to find out who was the witch. He surrounded himself with holy water, so the witches couldn’t hurt him. Otherwise, they’d tear him to pieces. The witch could only be seen by children.
He went home to tell his mother that he knew who the witches were. He revealed it to her by telling her, “You know, your mother is a witch as well.”
Christmas in Holy Family Parish. Nine days before Christmas, nine church-going families would form a special group. At the Holy Family chapel, they would bring a different icon every night, place it on an ornate home altar, and the women of the nine families would come with candles, sing, and ask to be admitted:
“Do you look for the Holy Family, / but nobody knows where they may be. / None know where to receive / the Lord in Heaven.”
“Szállást keres a szent család, / de senki sincs, ki helyet át. / Nincsen, aki befogadja / őt, ki égnek-földnek ura”|
Those in the house will then open the door and answer: “Do not cry, Virgin Mary, / Do not go elsewhere today, / we will share our accomodations, / welcome our embrace.”
“Ne sírj tovább, Szűz Mária, / Ne menjetek ma máshova, / Szállásunkat mi megosztjuk, / Kisjézuskát befogadjuk.”
The search for accommodation finished on Christmas Eve at midnight. Most of the nuns of Mesztegnyő came from the northern part of Somogy and moved to this location. This Biblical legend was lived out in real life during World War II. In December 1944, the villagers had to flee from the front, and for months they were forced to travel from municipality to municipality themselves. Therefore at the end of the war, after the nuns of Mesztegnyő returned to the Holy Family convent, the long search for accommodation had become something of a personal experience. Though the generation that experienced this first hand has begun to disappear, this fading tradition has been revived thanks to family knowledge from around the countryside.
Nativity (Betlehemezés): The medieval tradition of the Nativity pagent has survived in the village even to this day. It is believed that this tradition of drama came here during the 19th century, when Bohemian (Czech) foreigners settled here during the first half of it, and brought the tradition with them. Ferenc Gönczi brought to light the Nativity play, and in 1937, a book about the Somogy tradition was published.
In it, the oldest shepherd says: “Huhuhu! Gimbőcös-gombócos cifringes-cafrangos, good evening! I see that you have been drinking without me! I will hit you with my bottle. Why did you not wait for old Gariba Csicsa, your grandfather? What do you think you are going to be, you who are too impatient to wait for me. Your rank is not higher than mine, so that you can do what you like. You must listen to this old man. I will make nine stripes on your back with my stick!” the old man said.
The boys responded, “Oh beloved grandfather, let it be that nine knots grow in your beard.”
The grandfather responded, “Drink Lapos, drink! Drink up so that the rust seizes your throat!”
In Gönczi’s book, the Mesztegnyő pagent drawing shows the Nativity visitors in the following order: first two shepherds, then the devil with the chimney sweeper. However, these disappear and then later come out and dance, followed by Jutka and Marinka and other Hungarian peasants, who likewise dance, and kiss. They follow the devil, but in the end only one is left, a young woman hidden in a bag in which money donations can be put into.
Eva Panyi told a gathering of college students that Christmas was commemorated by a pagent at the convent held by kindergarten students just before winter break. The shepherds were dressed up before the stage in the halls, receiving all the necessary costume – fur coats and shubas, rods, chains, ropes, fake mustaches and beards, angel costumes – all which the kids brought from home. In one scene, during which the shepherds met with Herod’s soldiers, a scene especially dear to their parents, the children sang:
“Jerusalem, Jericho, / an intelligent bird the thrush, / go gendarmes, march, march, march, / bring forth Herod. / He is already a weakened king, / who is nonetheless blessed and loved. / Go gendarmes, march, march march, / bring forth Herod.”
“Jeruzsálem, Jerikó, / okos madár a rigó, / Eredj zsandár, hess, hess, hess, / Pukkadjon meg Heródes. / Van már ugyis királyunk, / akit áldunk, imádunk. / Eredj zsandár, hess, hess, hess, / Pukkadjon meg Heródes.”
In the festivities, the lord of the village took part. His wife, Mrs. Imre Hunyady, who now rests in a crypt in the Mesztegnyő cemetery, gave presents to all the kids at Christmas. The poor received shoes and clothing. The shoemaker made boots, and the grafin knitted wool scarves between Christmases. At the pagent, parents had to pay an entrance fee, the proceeds from which were given to orphans of the First World War.
Many of the old customs focus on the magic of the Christmas holidays. Christmas greetings between residents of Mesztegnyő can be found today in the library among recordings of Hungarian folk music.
Christmas Eve (Karácsonyi Kolompolás): In the evening twilight, boys begin to ring bells in the streets to mark the start of Christmas Eve, and the beginning of an intimate celebration.
The Christmas Table (A Karácsonyi Asztal): In Mesztegnyő, three white cloths were spread upon the table as a symbol of wealth, upon which was placed the Christmas tree (karácsonyfát). Garlic was spread under the tablecloth, where was placed also a stone cutter and a large knife to guard against corruption, and a good thick bacon was placed upon the table. Tree-picked apples and popcorn were also placed out for eating. On the tree is placed a piece of cloth so that the family will stay together and in peace and good health over the coming year. Under the table is placed a basket of hay and corn on the cob, so that there should be plenty of food for the animals in the year ahead.
For getting a man: A girl should put honey on the table, from which the girl would spill onto the hands of the boy she likes. This will become her husband.
Some say: Around Christmas, a jelly is made from meat, from which the bones were thrown to the dogs. Two girls would do this. The dog would chose which bone it would eat first. Whose bone was picked would be the girl who married first.
Midnight Mass and our moral habits: If you go to mass, and on the way home you find change, you must find a stone to kick, apparently at a pig, and as many times the pig grunts is as many years you will continue to find money. They also say that if you are going to mass, and the horses call out from the stables, “Listen to what the cows are saying!” Still others recall: At Christmas time, the cow manure was placed around the fruit trees to ensure that they would bear more fruit in the coming year.
December 28, Day of the Holy Innocents (Aprószentek Napja): The flogging. The boys weave this day together eight strands into a single whip, and early in the morning, not even waiting for you to let them in, they burst into the house. They pass along many well wishes until the homeowners tell them:
“Be good! / Be lively! / Do not be lazy! / Bring water, not wine / the skin is sent to receive water / Be a good example!”
“Jó légy! / Friss légy! / Keléses ne légy! / Vizér küldnek, borér menj, / Borér küldnek, vizér menj / Jó kapás légy!”
December 31, New Year’s Day (Szilveszter napja): Feather-baked cakes. Each family member makes a cake in which white goose feathers are placed before being put into the oven. The edges of the cakes are given to the oldest member of the family, while the inner pieces are given to the next oldest onward down to the youngest. If the cake was burnt, the person whose cake it was would become ill in the coming year. If the feather was burnt, the person whose cake it was would die.
Many thanks to Istvan Kollar for his help in dealing with the old Hungarian parts of this text (there were so many parts of it that were in old Hungarian). If there are any errors, chances are it wasn’t because of his translation. Rather, any translation issues are the result of the still-imperfect state of online translation between Hungarian and English. If you notice any errors, please drop a line to me, and I’ll get it fixed at the earliest moment.