Tag Archives: eastern europe

Never light up a cigarette from a candle

Main piece:

M.P.: If I am not wrong, my grandmother was the one who told me this. So we were in her house and I lighted up a cigarette from a candle. My grandmother basically turned white and told me “No, you don’t light cigarettes from candles”. Whereupon, I didn’t know the reason why. Wait how was it. [pauses in a monument of reflection]. Ah Yes. My grandma said “you don’t light up cigarette from candles because every time you do so a sailor dies”. 
From what I understood there is some sort of historical reason behind this belief, but I am not sure about the specific origin.


My informant is a 23 years old girl who was born in Bologna, Italy, and whose paternal grandmother is now in her 80s. She mentioned this piece to me, because she remembered being particularly surprised by it, especially considering that, despite having been a smoker for quite a bit now, she had never heard it before her grandma advised her against doing such thing. She also added that, even if she does’t consider herself superstitious, she has never done it after the mentioned episode.


My informant told me this folk-belief while she was smoking a cigaret between a course and the next one during a lunch. 


Many are the folk-belief and folk-superstitions which are somehow related to history and historical events. In this case, -despite the multiple assumptions made- this particular saying, mostly diffused in Eastern and Northern Europe, is said to derive from the period in which sailors, after working on sea, used to top up their profits by making and selling matches. Consequently, lighting up a cigarette from a candle, instead of using a match, implied less earnings for sailors, who, left without money, could have eventually starved to death.

In my opinion, two are the things worth of mention. First, it is interesting to notice the process of diffusion the belief underwent, considering that from Eastern and Northern Europe -where the superstition is though to be originated-, it was, someway, propagated in other parts of the continent (if not the world) as well.

Secondly, the aesthetic of belief is, here, one of the principle sources of appeal, as my informant pointed out that, despite her lack of “faith” in superstitions, she has never lighted up a cigaret from a candle never again. This was, probably, due to the fact that it was her grandmother who told her this and, as often happens, older people are perceived as wiser, and, at the same time, the absence of explanation -and the almost mystical curiosity which from it derives- made it more mysteriously fascinating. 


Házi Áldás

Main Text:

Házi Áldás 

Hol hit, ott szeretet

Hol szeretet, ott béke

How béke, ott áldás

Hol áldás, ott Isten 

Hol Isten 

Ott szükség nincsen. 


House Blessing 

Where there is faith, there is love

Where there is love, there is peace

Where there is peace, there is blessing

Where there is blessing, there is God

Where there is God

There is no need. 

Background about Informant: 

She was born and raised in Hungary, but moved to the United States in 1997. She is knowledgable of her roots and has lots of wisdom to share about its’ cultural traditions. She comes from a religious background in Catholicism and is experienced with Hungary Catholic practices and beliefs. 


She explains: 


“In Hungary, entering a household is considered scared and thus its’ sacredness is embodied in the Házi Áldás (House Blessing). It is often seen in embroidery, carved in wood, and other traditional arts. 

In bonds with Hungarian Catholicism, it is meant to serve as a list of virtues to living a pious life under God’s blessings. 

It is also a statement of wisdom that reflects familial bonds and a connection to past cultural beliefs tied with religion. 

In the past, people would hang this on the wall to preserve their faith in God. It began only being used in civic houses, but eventually it even started appearing in peasant households and farmhouses. 

The power of the text allowed people to believe that God would bless the people in the house if the text was present. It is traditionally placed in kitchens. 

Lots of people still sell them today at craft fairs and mostly to tourists.

It’s not really used as much as it was in the past and today it’s used more for decoration, than for spiritual purposes.”


In my research and interview, I was able to learn more about the history behind the Házi Áldás. Having Hungarian roots myself and a Házi Áldás in my own kitchen, I’ve always wondered what its’ purpose has been. Since my informant is religious and grew up in a Hungarian Catholic household, she was very knowledge about the context behind the Házi Áldás rich history. Hungary has a history of being religious and attributing to its’ history it was no surprise that people dealt a great deal of value to such texts, but it was interesting to learn about how it shifted from civic houses to the poorer population, because even so today most of the poorer population are the ones contributing to the religious life in Hungary. 

I also found the shift from the Házi Áldás as a sacred text to now a symbol of craft and tourist souvenirs. It highlights the disconnect between Hungary’s traditional past which suffered a lot because of its’ Communism past where a lot of these traditions are not practiced or valued because of its’ censorship under particular leaders. But overall, I was very ‘blessed’ to learn about the history behind the Házi Áldás and its’ shift from a valuable text of great importance to now being found in every gift shop available, a path that many of these relics are finding themselves headed towards, opening eyes to how Hungary is trying to preserve their past. 


For visual references and information visit:



Easter ‘Locsolas’

Main Text: 

Hungary’s Easter ‘Locsolkodás’

Background on Informant: 

She was born and raised in Hungary, but moved to the United States in 1997. She is knowledgable of her roots and has lots of wisdom to share about its’ cultural traditions. She grew up in a religious family who practiced many Easter customs including the Easter ‘locsolas’ (‘sprinkling’)


She explains: 


“During Easter (Húsvét), we have this custom called ‘locsolas’ (sprinkling).  Girls are symbolically viewed as flowers, and if they are not sprinkled they risk withering away. 

So on Easter Monday, men (dressed in traditional costumes) fill buckets with water and the girls gather in pretty traditional clothing as well and wait for the arrival of the men. 

Men also have tradition ‘sprinkling poems’ that they recite. The most popular is this one:

Zold erdobe jartam,

Kek ibolyat lattam, 

Elakart hervadni,

Szabad-e locsolni?


I went to a green forest,

I saw a blue violet,

It was wilting,

Can I water it?

The girls have to agree to be ‘watered’ and then the men will ‘sprinkle’ them by dumping the buckets of water and the girls will reward them with painted eggs, desserts, and drinks. 

However, while it still happens, the buckets of water have evolved into less extreme things such as a spray of perfume or cologne. Although in the countryside they probably still stick to the buckets. 

My brother loved this holiday because he got a lot of food and chocolates, I liked it too but the water was always so cold. I used to want to get revenge and splash the boys right back. 

But as I got older, people resorted to simpler versions such as spraying perfume. 

It is one my favorite traditions because it is so simple and still practiced. It’s all in good fun” 


Having grown up in this tradition too, it was interesting to hear a first-hand explanation of the event. For me, it’s more modern now with perfume as a simple way to continue the tradition but it was fascinating listening to my interviewers personal experiences with it.

From researching, I learned that this tradition started as far back as the 2nd century AD, and was a ritual meant to promote fertility and purification. Connecting it back with lessons in and readings studied in class, I definitely saw and was able to understand more clearly how this custom evolved. 

I like how this event is sort of a rite of passage and that it is a celebration that everyone in the culture partakes in. I also love how often many of these customs have died out or are dying out in Hungary, but this one remains a strong part of Hungary’s Easter cultural identity and is still very popular. Overall, I think it’s a wonderful traditional that can gather a community for some good fun. 


For visual reference: 

Farsang & Busójárás

Main Text: 

Farsang & Busójárás 

Background on Informant: 

My informant is originally from Romania, specifically the Transylvania region that is intermixed with Romanian and Hungarian roots. They came to the United States at 24 and have been here since. They are very knowledgable with the cultural context of Romania and Hungary, having grown up in Szekely tradition (a subgroup of Hungarian people living in Romania). They have graciously shared with me parts of their folklore and heritage. 


They explain: 

“Growing up in the Szekely tradition, my culture was mixed between Hungarian and Romanian, but the Hungarian customs were what my parents practiced over Romanian. 

One of the best events we celebrated was ‘Farsang’ which is kind of like a Hungarian Halloween. It starts at the beginning of January, I think the day of the Vizkereszt (Epiphany) and it ends before Easter. 

The whole event is basically like a carnival with costumes (which looking back some of the costumes we had were so funny, my parents always tried to save money so they would send us out as little clowns). There was also a parade they would hold for the children, where we would gather and winners were chosen. I won one year which was fun and I got a small cake as a reward. Speaking of eating my favorite carnival treat was the farsangi fank which are basically little fried donuts covered in powered sugar. 

It definitely is very heavily influenced from Christian traditions, but it never felt religious. It was a very fun period where we were saying goodbye to winter and welcoming in the new spring weather. 

Towards the end of Farsang, there was this celebration called the Busójárás, which lasted for six days in the town of Mohács. Men would dress up in these scary masks and ‘take over the town’ and chase people. 

The origins go something like, during the Ottoman occupation, the people were forced to flee the town and hide, and then one night after taking the advice of an elder (a šokac man), they returned to the town in scary masks, and scared the Turks away because they resembled demons. This is why the masks are so scary looking, but today instead of scaring away invaders, they symbolically ‘scare’ away the winter. 

It definitely has a lot of folk culture involved from the masks, to music, dancing, and a lot of drinking. 

Then after all of it is over, the Easter season begins and it much more conservative than Farsang, but nonetheless it was a wonderful chlildhood experience we got to see every year because my parents would take us to Mohács whenever it was held. 

They still do it today which is great and now with technology it’s very fun to see how people are still practicing the traditions of these events and the cultural influence.” 


Growing up my mom would tell me brief stories about Farsang and some childhood pictures but I never really knew that much about the festival. This interview was definitely enlightening and I learned so much. I think it’s incredible how they have their own ‘Halloween’ which honestly probably predates it so technically we celebrate an American ‘Farsang’. I loved hearing about my interviewers experience and wishing that I could have my own Farsang stories. 

I had definitely never heard of the Busójárás and after watching videos and learning about the Turkish history behind it, I found it so interesting and fun. I love how even after all that time this tradition is still practiced and continues on. I love how much these people have embraced their cultural identities and how folklore has played a major role in preserving their histories. I think the importance of these events are meant to showcase the Hungarian pride in reminiscing about their past and to reconnect with the traditions of their heritage. It was fascinating to learn about Farsang and the Busójárás and again the constant influence of religion in most of their practices. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this piece of Hungarian history. 


For visual reference: 


Slovakian-American Wedding Dance

I asked my informant about her wedding that I attended, in particular a wedding dance that took place during the reception. My informant’s wedding party initiated the dance, which consisted of all the women gathering on the dance floor, surrounding the bride. Then the groom has to try and get to the bride through all of the women while they wave him away with the dinner napkins. Usually the dance is done to a polka song, which is also traditionally part of the Slovakian celebrations in the Pittsburgh area.

My informant told me that her husband and most of the wedding party was of Slovakian heritage, which is where the dance traditionally hails from. Not everyone at the wedding was Slovakian, but the wedding party easily got the majority of people to participate. I participated, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing at the time. The important thing was to have as many women on the dance floor surrounding the bride as possible. This made it harder for the groom to reach the bride and it also just added to the festivities.

The significance of this dance might be the women protecting the bride and her ‘innocence’ from the groom, and the fact that they form a circle around the bride that the groom has to ‘penetrate’ is related to sexual imagery usually involved in traditional wedding activities.

At the end of the dance the groom finally makes it to the center and takes his bride away from the circle.