Late February in Hungary ushers in a new festive season. Known as Farsang in Hungarian, the carnival is all about saying goodbye to winter with colourful processions, lavish parties and tasty specialities. The celebrations take place all across the country, blending pagan traditions with Christian ones, and the festive fun lasts right up until Ash Wednesday when Lent starts. Here’s a mini guide to Hungary’s carnival season.
Chase away the winter at Busójárás
To experience the biggest carnival party in Hungary, head to Mohács in the southern part of the country for Busójárás. This wild rite-of-spring festival usually takes place at the ‘Tail of the Carnival’ (Farsang Farka; 28 February to 5 March 2019) and begins when the Busók – men clad in woolly sheep’s skin, wearing horned wooden masks painted with menacing grins – arrive by boat on the Danube. The demonic-looking Busók then chase and grab the women, including bystanders, and make scary loud noises to banish the cold.
The culmination of this festival interwoven with pagan imagery is when the Farsang coffin (symbolising winter) is burned on a large bonfire on the town’s main square. Although Busójárás is about chasing the winter away, one story of its origins goes back to the Turkish invasion, when locals dressed as demons and scared the invading Ottomans into retreating to the nearby swamps. Either way, it’s a memorable celebration.
Join the party in Budapest
You don’t need to leave Budapest to get into the carnival spirit – there are parties all over the city, especially in February. If you’re in the Hungarian capital for Fat Thursday (Torkos Csütörtök), which is usually the last Thursday before Lent, many restaurants offer 50% discounts on all you can eat or drink. But this is not only the perfect excuse to enjoy goulash and pálinka (fruit brandy); it’s also the time to really let your hair down, so keep an eye out for carnival parties held in the city’s trendiest bars and clubs for a night of debauchery. Expect to dress up, don a mask and a costume (themes tend to vary) and party the night away.
Feast on Farsang doughnuts
If you’re feeling extra gluttonous, make sure you try the Farsang doughnuts (Szalagos Farsangi Fánk). These delicacies are cakes fried in shallow oil, flipped with a light ribbon of pastry around the middle, and then filled with cream or apricot jam and dusted with powdered sugar. Around mid-February, special doughnut-focused festivals take place around the country, including Budapest, the Pilis Mountains, Miskolc and Nagykanizsa. In Budapest you can also grab delicious doughnuts at Box Donut (Teréz körút 62).