Monday, August 20, 2012

Saint Stephen's Day

Szent István was the first king of Hungary (reign 1001-1038)

Today, August the 20th, is a significant national holiday in Hungary. It is one of the most important holidays on the Hungarian calender. Szent István or also known as Saint Stephen I in English, was the first king of Hungary.  He created the Kingdom of Hungary and brought Christianity to the people of his kingdom. Today's holiday is significant because it celebrates and commemorates the foundation of the Hungarian state. The holiday is named in honour of our first king, Szent István. He is one of the most significant Hungarians in our history.

The fireworks display in Budapest on Saint Stephens Day from 2011

There will be day-long festivities on this special day honouring Szent István. The festivities start in the morning with the raising of the Hungarian flag in Kossuth tér and continue on all day long, culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the Danube. The main events include the procession of St. Stephen's Holy Right Hand around the Basilica, the Court of St. Stephen, a historical playhouse, archery shows, a water parade and an air show along the embankments of the river Danube.

This holiday is very important to the Hungarian people because it celebrates not only the founder of the Hungarian nation but who they are as a people. This is the special day to celebrate all what it means to be Hungarian. Many Hungarians are very happy and emotional on this day and usually celebrate with family and friends. Tens of thousands will attend the festivities in downtown Budapest.

Hungary was established as a Christian Catholic kingdom under Stephen I (István), a descendant of Árpád, the Magyar leader who united the tribes into one nation in the Carpathian Basin. Stephen was crowned on Christmas Day 1000 AD in the old capital at the time, Esztergom. He greatly expanded Hungarian control over the Carpathian Basin, establishing Christianity in the region and is generally considered to be the founder of Hungary. István was canonised by the Catholic Church in 1083. István became the most popular saint in Hungary and its patron saint.

According to legend, Pope Silvester II, with the consent of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, sent a magnificent jewelled gold crown to Stephen along with an apostolic cross. The holy Hungarian crown of Stephen I left Hungary after the Second World War in 1945 and would remain in Fort Knox in the United States until President Jimmy Carter returned it to Hungary in 1977.

The crown then went on display at the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest until the Millennium Celebrations in 2000.  It was then transferred to the House of Parliament. Recently, the Hungarian Armed Forces created a special honour guard which watches over the holy crown day and night in the Hungarian Parliament. The holy crown can be viewed by the public at certain times.

Happy Saint Stephen's Day. Boldog Szent István napot!