Hungarian Sayings and Traditions Relating to Autumn

Autumn brings a change, mostly cooler weather, even for us here, in the Sonoran Desert. However, as it allows us to enjoy a bit of outdoor time, it is quite different for our families and friends in Hungary and the surrounding Hungarian-speaking regions.

There, the changing season brings unwelcome rain and wind, but in the meantime colorful fall leaves on the trees. Apples, walnuts, and grapes ripen among other things, which means it is time for harvest.

Hungarian Sayings, Proverbs Relating to Autumn

Hungarian folk sayings and proverbs often refer to the weather and to nature. Worded briefly, they are based on centuries of observations, expressing truths of life and moral rules, bringing an old world to life. At the same time, they lend expressive power and a special beauty to our everyday communication, making our language more colorful.

As integral parts of folk poetry, they play a major role in preserving the language, while they also act as historical records, since they may refer to customs, situations, or tools that no longer exist today.

Folk poetry has been an integral part of the lives of the Hungarian people for centuries. Our ancestors taught children about everyday life using folk tales. On long winter evenings and during fall and winter holidays adults retold legends and ballads, sometimes reenacting them.

Folk customs are an integral part of ethnography. Developed over the millennia, they provided a framework for the people’s lives, regulating social contact, work and entertainment. Although they no longer play the same role today, celebrating them helps preserve our culture and our language.

For us, Hungarians in Arizona, they refer to our home world, connecting us to our roots. When we use our folk sayings here in Arizona, we are reminded of our home world. When we bring our old customs to life, we connect to our ancient world.

And when we share them with our friends in this faraway land, even in translation, we give them a glimpse into our culture, our history. Through our customs and celebrations we share the origin and originality of our way of thinking, our identity.

A Few Hungarian Saying Relating to Autumn

The Harvest Festival

The Harvest Ball, the tradition of the harvest festival in the Hungarian areas dates back centuries. It really refers to the harvest of grapes, since originally only the harvest of grapes was celebrated at the Harvest Ball. Although the celebration later spread to all harvest, the greater emphasis always remained on grapes and, of course, winemaking.

The grape harvest was originally a huge event that affected everyone in the village, and even neighboring villages. Young men rode through the villages on horseback, inviting everyone to the big event, harvesting the grapes.

The day of harvest began early and all the villagers took part in the work. Women picked the grapes and filled large baskets with them. As soon as the baskets were full, they called the carriers. These carriers were the young men, who showed up their strength by carrying the heavy baskets on their backs to the press. There, they transferred the grapes into barrels. Barefoot children and women crushed the grapes in these barrels by walking on them. Once crushed, they transferred the grapes to the winemaking press. The first press grape juice was tasted, even by the children.

In order for this grape juice to become wine, it needs to age, so after the process, it was stored in barrels, in cellars.

The Ball – Celebration after the Hard Work

The day was hard work for everyone, and at the end of the day, as a thank you, the owner of the vineyard invited everyone to a feast and celebration, the harvest ball. While he harvesters were busy working, people in the household were setting up a large feast. Obviously, freshly picked grapes was part of the feast. Besides it, traditional Hungarian dishes like goulash, roasted pork, stuffed cabbage and freshly baked cake were on the menu. Wine from the previous year’s harvest was the highlight of the drinks menu, besides he stronger liquor, pálinka, and grape juice from the day’s harvest for kids, as well as drinks. Besides food and drinks, traditional dances were part of the celebration that usually lasted till dawn.

The Tradition Changes, but Survives

Today, grapes are mostly harvested by machine, and even when it’s done by hand, a whole village is not needed for harvesting. And although the day-long hard work doesn’t need to be done any more, the harvest ball, including the feast, music and dance, has survived. Harvest festivals are celebrated in all Hungarian-inhabited areas to this day.

Although transformed over the years, the harvest ball is sill one of our most important traditions celebrated in the autumn, connecting us with our ancestors and our homeland. At the same time, here, in Arizona, celebrating the Harvest Festival gives us an opportunity to share our traditions and with our friends and neighbors, adding to the cultural diversity of our state.

This year we will hold our Harvest Festival on October 24th.

Published by

E. Réka Fromm

A Hungarian native from Transylvania, Réka Fromm is the language instructor for adults at the HCA Phoenix. She is teaching Hungarian as a foreign language for English-speaking adults, leading small groups of beginner through intermediate classes through Zoom. A Phoenix resident for almost three decades, she is also a travel writer and occasional translator.

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