(The following information of this important holiday in Hungary I have received from my host mom and sister, the English teacher I assist in Pilis, and her son.)
Halloween has only just started beginning to be observed in Hungary in the last ten years. The part of the population that is beginning to take hold of the idea of Halloween is the young people (mostly pre-teens and teens). The day after, November 1st, has had more significance in the culture for quite some time.
Halottak Napja is observed every year in Hungary. Someone told me that it translates to something like “All Hallow’s Eve”. It is a day that most businesses and workplaces are closed so the employees can properly be involved in this part of the culture (definitely a significant part of Hungarian culture, but could be a part of other European countries culture, too).
Individuals go to cemeteries in the morning and “prepare graves” of loved ones’ by placing flowers on the raised tombs and tilling the soil/sand around them. I wasn’t available to go with my második mámá (second mom) in the morning, but she told me that the cemetery looked “like a beautiful, big garden” when she left.
In the evening, people go back to the cemeteries with candles of different shapes and sizes. As the darkness covers the sky, people light their candles and place them on the raised tombs or in the sand around the tombs. Those who are there usually meander through the cemetery with their immediate family members, visiting the graves of family members and friends who have passed. Someone from the group may take a candle to another grave on their own for maybe a close friend’s mother or classmate who touched their lives in a special way. My host mom told me that they light candles because people used to think that those who have passed could see the light from heaven.
To my surprise, I didn’t see many people crying as we walked around the cemetery, crossing paths with at least 100 people. I voiced my observation was told, “Today is not for that. It’s about remembering them and giving respects.”
When asking about the holiday, I found that it originated from the Catholic tradition that honored the saints on November 1st and others on November 2nd. Though, this part of Hungarian culture began with a religious base, almost everyone observes the day now as an act of respect for those have have gone before them. Most go to the graveyards on November 1st, but November 2nd is also seen as part of the holiday (just not as common to observe). Halottak Napja isn’t necessarily seen as a religious holiday anymore, and many people remember observing the holiday as long as they can remember. I asked my sister why she thought this holiday is important to Hungarians, and she said, “It is important to remember loved ones who have died”.
I wasn’t sure what I would experience on November 1st this year because I didn’t have any personal connection to what others have observed and done for years and years. Yes, I did feel on the outside of culture because it was like nothing I’d been given knowledge of before. But, I felt honored to walk alongside people who I deeply cared for and see their deep love for others who have passed. I walked in solace that evening, trying to soak in as much as I could while passing each flower and candle placed with care. I also thought to myself, “Heaven must have quite the view of this sacred place.”