Hungary is very diverse when it comes to rural architecture, craftsmanship, folk music and dance. The black pottery of Mohács, the opulence of the embroidery of Matyó and Kalocsa, the delicacy of the Halas lacework – they all tell the distinct story of the locals.
For a comprehensive view of the architecture and a peak into the customs of Hungarian villages a couple of hundred years back, head to one of the numerous open-air village museums scattered around the country. Probably the most prestigious one is the Skanzen Open-Air Ethnographic Museum near Szentendre, just a stones-throw from Budapest (www.skanzen.hu). Don't miss the Village Museum of Göcsej (actually the very first village museum to be established in Hungary) with a beautiful water-mill from the 19th century at its heart. The Museum Village of Sóstó is a must-see too, as it's one of the most diverse in Hungary, showing the multicoloured folk architecture and customs of five ethnographical regions (Szatmár, Rétköz, Nyírség, Nyíri Mezőség and Bereg) – all in one ‘village'. The tavern is actually in use, so you can clink glasses here too. To travel back further in time, head to Tiszaalpár - here you'll find a reconstructed village of the Árpád-age (1000 – 1301), built according to archaeological finds, only using materials available at the time.
For a piece of living tradition, head to the beautifully preserved village of Hollokó, that's actually a world heritage site . What makes Hollókő really special is that it hasn't been turned into an open-air museum – it's a living village with locals leading a tradition-bound life. Of course there are other small villages where locals keep up their centuries-old traditions. A secret tip: visit Hollókő in the spring – Easter celebrations bring out the most of this beautiful little village. Pottery, central to the folk culture of the Hungarians, is kept alive at the small villages of the Őrség and the Hortobágy regions.
It is not just the architecture and the objects from the past, however, that define who we are. It is the great variety of folksy customs that are just as alive today. Want to hear examples? Well, there is the so-called Busójárás, for a starter. In the carnival season people dressup in scary costumes and wooden masks roam the streets to scare winter (or the Turks, according to another interpretation...) away.
At Easter, boys sprinkle girls with perfume while citing one of the funny little poems written for these occasions. According to the tradition, women who are not ‘watered' will fade away – boys couldn't let that happen, could they? In old times, it used to be a bucket of cold water, however today it's a tamer version that's in use. Part of the Easter celebrations (and a favourite among kids) is the painting of eggs. In some regions egg-painting developed into an art form of its own, with local motifs scratched into and embroidered onto the egg – and guess what, sometimes eggs are even adorned with tiny horse shoes.
Weddings in Hungary have their own choreography and traditions as well, of course. The wedding procession is particularly important and is usually followed by the whole village. The bridal dance is supposed to ensure the young couple's financial stability – guests have to pay to take the bride to dance. Breaking glasses will drive bad ghosts away, and by cleaning up the mess together the young couple can demonstrate how well they can cooperate. Oh, and don't be surprised if the bride gets stolen. The young husband has to perform some tasks to get her back... And believe it or not, thereis no other event in Hungary where more pálinka is drank than a wedding.
In fact every religious or ancient celebration will have their own customs that remain with us in some form such as the annual harvest and the pig sticking; as well as important days such as August 20th which celebrates the creation of the Hungarian state and remembering the Hungarian Revolution on March 15th. Make sure to visit Hungary for one of them and find out more about these odd people called Magyars!