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Aug 20, 2019

Why do Hungarians celebrate St. Stephen's day?

On August 20th, Hungary celebrates the establishment of the state and it's more than just a thousand year-old history.

Hungary’s very first king, King Saint Stephen (Szent István király) was the only son of Grand Prince Géza and his wife, Sarolt. Both of his parents were baptized, however, Stephen was the first member of his family to become a dedicated Christian. His birth name was Vajk, and he received the Christian name Stephen during his baptism.

After succeeding his father, Stephen faced a fight for the throne with his relative Koppány, a pagan leader. Although the conflict was technically between Christianity and paganism, theoretically it was mainly based on two different understandings of the line of succession.

The first-born son of the ruler, that is Stephen, should inherit the throne, while the ancient pagan notion of seniority supported Koppány’s claim for succession.

The two relatives engaged in a bloody war, however, Stephen finally defeated his enemy, with the help of foreign knights and native lords. Their conflict is adapted in the Hungarian rock opera Stephen, the King (István, a király) by composer Levente Szörényi and writer János Bródy.

Stephen was crowned either on December 25th, 1000 or January 1st, 1001, according to different traditions, and established the Kingdom of Hungary.

New battles were fought against tribes and chieftains who stayed somewhat independent (e.g. his uncle, Gyula the Younger), however, in the end, King Stephen succeeded to convert the Magyars to Christianity and to unify the Carpathian Basin. He also protected the new-born kingdom from foreign invaders.

King Stephen was canonized on August 20th, 1083, by Pope Gregory VII for bringing Christianity to Hungary and later deemed the patron saint of Hungary. Since Queen Maria Theresa’s reign in 1771, the day is a national state and church holiday.

Countless traditions and celebrations are observed annually on the saint’s feast day in Hungarian communities throughout the Carpathian Basin, but Budapest’s celebrations commemorating the foundation of the Hungarian state are the most outstanding.

Festivities in the capital start in the morning with the raising of the Hungarian flag and continue all day long. The celebration will be crowed with a spectacular fireworks display over the Danube River.

The August 20th schedule can be viewed on the government’s website.