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St. Stephen's Day

Public and national holidays in Hungary National Holiday in Hungary

St. Stephen of Hungary
Copyright: anderm / 123RF Stock Photo

When is it?

St. Stephen's Day is celebrated in Hungary on 20 August each year. It is also known as Foundation Day, Constitution Day, National Day and the 'Day Of The New Bread'.

History of the holiday

St. Stephen of Hungary (Szent István király) was the first king of Hungary and he laid the foundation of the state by converting the Magyar people to Christianity.

After a serious military loss in 955 AD, Hungarian tribal leaders decided to abandon their nomadic existence. Stephen, the Grand Prince of the Hungarians, realised that conversion to Christianity would be a way of strengthening the idea of Hungarian nationhood. He received a crown from Pope Sylvester II becoming Hungary's first king in 1000 AD, ruling until his death on 15 August 1038. The Holy Crown has survived the centuries since and it is now Hungary's most precious treasure.

Stephen became a saint on 20 August 1083. He became the patron saint of Hungary. As part of the canonization process King Stephen's remains were dug up and legend has it that his right hand had not decayed at all. The hand was removed from the body and can still be seen in St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest.

Until 1687, 20 August was St. Stephens feast day and thus became Hungary's national day, even after the feast day itself was switched around in the calendar a few times. In 1945 Communist leaders prohibited celebrations due to its religious nature and in 1950 it was changed to Constitution Day in 1950. It was reinstated as a celebration of St. Stephen in 1990 by the Hungarian Parliament.

How is it celebrated?

The highlight of the St. Stephen's Day celebration is a massive fireworks display on the bank of the Danube in the evening.


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