Masked balls, street parades and costumes: Hungary’s answer to Mardi Gras has a unique local edge.
Where Brazil has Rio de Janeiro Carnival and New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Hungary has Farsang. And like its full-throttle, colour-saturated international peers, Farsang is Hungary’s biggest party of the year. It’s a chance to let off steam before Lent ushers in its traditional 40 days of austerity – and you’ll need at least that to recover from the excesses of Farsang. Budapest’s carnival season traditionally starts just after Epiphany on 6th January with a vivid concatenation of soirees, masquerades, banquets and balls. It continues at breakneck speed until Ash Wednesday, when most Hungarians collapse in an exhausted heap and wait quietly for Easter. More than a highlight on the social calendar, it’s a celebration of Hungary’s rich traditions, and is an aptly convivial way to bring in the spring. Here are the Farsang highlights not to miss.
Budapest Circus Festival
The first important event of Farsang is the Budapest Circus Festival, which happens on alternate years, and sees performers from all over the country come together for a show that celebrates everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. Expect acrobats and fire eaters to stilt walkers and clowns, alongside more sophisticated forms of theatre and performance art.
Mangalica Festival Budapest
Usually marking the start of February, Mangalica Festival Budapest is a gastronomical delight, celebrating the Hungarian breed of pig, the mangalica. It is thought this meat is healthier and tastier than regular pork and you’ll be able to sample it for yourself at this special festival. Alongside the delicious sausages, there will be other food and beverage offers to excite your palette. And the even better news is that entry is free.
If Farsang centres around a main event, it’s Busójárás. This colourful festival commandeers the riverside town of Mohács, an easy two-hour drive south of Budapest on the border between Hungary and Croatia. During Busójárás, this sleepy little town bursts to life. The local men dress up as busós in carved masks and sheepskins. This formidable costume is believed to scare off the invading Turks in the 17th century, and has been a tradition ever since. However, this festival is now far more about festivity than fearmongering. Against a noisy backdrop of music, around 500 busós row along the Danube as feasts, parties, fireworks and bonfires announce the biggest party of the year.
Although Busójárás is the main event, and the one that’s recognised around the world, there are a lot of other smaller events, festivals and masked balls that happen throughout Budapest Carnival season. Every year the Museum of Fine Arts hold a costume ball for the good and the great of Hungary, where intrigue and decorum get lost behind ornate masks.
In Hungary, Ash Wednesday is followed by Torkos Csütörtök, or Fat Thursday. It’s the last chance to fill your gastronomic boots before Lent begins. In celebration of the occasion, Budapest’s restaurants put on a final celebratory banquet. It’s the day to eat, drink and be merry, and perhaps sample the joys of the Carnival Doughnut – an ingenious snack that helps to soak up an excess of pálinka.