Busó Festival in Phoenix

Busójárás, the Hungarian custom inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, is one of the biggest carnivals in Hungary and a major folklore event. 

Famous for its scary masks, the Busó carnival originated and is still celebrated in the town of Mohács. The tradition has a very long history.

What Is Busójárás or the Busó Festival? Its origins and tradition

We know of two different versions of the origin of the Busó carnival.

According to some sources, the tradition has originated during the times of the Turkish occupation. According to the legend, the tradition began during the second battle of Mohács, when the town’s inhabitants took refuge from the Turkish occupation across the town, on the opposite side of the Danube. They dressed in scary masks and returned with lots of noise to Mohács, where they scared the superstitious Turks, who panicked and fled.

That’s one legend. However, according to a much more common and more likely explanation, the Busó carnival had another origin and purpose: to scare away the cold winter. People used to frighten the winter with scary masks and loud noises, hoping to make the frigid weather run away. A straw figure symbolized winter, which people either burned or drowned at the end of the celebration, then had a mock funeral for it.

The period from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday is the period of carnival, for fun and feasting. The climax of the fun, the so-called tail of the carnival, is a three-day celebration of a winter farewell. This is when the Busó carnival takes place in Mohács. 

Busójárás is a dramatic folk tradition where the participants hide their identity with masks and costumes and impersonate someone else.

Local master woodcarvers make the busójárás masks traditionally from willow wood. The masks differ from carver to carver, however, what they all have in common is a snarling mouth, decoration with animal horns (ram or goat), and bright colors that enhance the frightening effect.

In addition to the scary Busós, the so-called beautiful Busós also participate in the parade. They are usually women and girls, and instead of scary masks, they cover their faces with traditional veils.

According to the Mohács tradition, the Busó carnival begins with landing, as the Busós come to the city by boat from the Danube. From there, the Busós parade through the city with great noise.

When the parade reaches the Main Square, the mock funeral of winter begins, which is the key moment of the Carnival in all Hungarian-inhabited regions. In some places they drown winter, like in Torockó in Transylvania, in other places, they burn it on bonfires, like in Mohács.

Busó Carnival in Phoenix

The Busó carnival in Mohács is the original version, but Hungarians celebrate it in other places as well. This year, we even had a Busó carnival in Phoenix. Here, the students of Napocska school scared the winter away with busó masks. And they scared it so well that by the afternoon the sun was out and they could play in the park.

During the last weekend of January, the students of the Napocska Hungarian school, which operates within the framework of our Association, gathered in a park to celebrate the carnival and scare away the winter with a busó carnival.

After discussing what Busójárás or Busó Carnival is, the children made busó masks. The boys made scary versions of the busó masks, and each was scarier than the other. The girls made and decorated veiled masks, the beautiful versions of the Busó masks.

When everyone had their masks on, they stood up and marched around and made such a noise with musical instruments that the terrified winter ran away and the sun came out.

Then they sang, danced and played in the park until it was time for the traditional carnival donut eating contest.

Then everyone, children and adults, had lunch together, sampling traditional Hungarian dishes and pastries made by the parents. 

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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