Hungarian National Holiday: Celebrating Freedom

On March 15th, Hungarians observe a national holiday celebrating democracy and freedom. This date was chosen because it commemorates the first day of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. As it happens with first visits to a location, Mr. TWS and I were not able to see and do everything we’d hoped in Budapest. However, we did see many of the symbols of Hungarian democracy and history.

"Hungarian National Museum where many important events have taken place"

Hungarian National Museum

We saw preparations for this Hungarian national holiday, including school children placing small Hungarian flags (shown below) at key locations like the Hungarian National Museum . The National Museum, pictured at the top, was among the most notable sites of the mass demonstrations in Buda and Pest (the cities separated by the Danube that joined to form Budapest in 1873) that marked the “bloodless revolution” on March 15, 1848. The revolution led to the concession to demands (the 12 points of the revolution, which included an independent Hungarian government, army and bank as well as civil and religious equality) by the representatives of Austrian emperor Ferdinand I. The revolution was overthrown the following year when Emperor Franz Josef asked for help from the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, who marched Russian troops into Hungary, ending the revolution. However, the passive resistance of Hungary following the revolution led to an elevation of Hungary among Austrian nations and the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. The Hungarian revolution led many other revolutions in 1848, including those in other Austrian-ruled countries and around the world.

"Flags in honor of March 15th, a Hungarian national holiday at the National Museum in Budapest"

Flags in honor of March 15th, a Hungarian national holiday, at the National Museum

The museum was the center of many events after that night and is an important symbol of democracy for Hungarians. On Friday, among other events, speeches will be made from the top of the museum’s steps. Almost all businesses are closed and the Parliament Building and key museums are open without the usual fees. An activity I would have liked to have seen was a procession of Hussars (light cavalry adopted by other militaries but originating with Hungarians of the 17th century) from the Hungarian National Museum to the Royal Palace high on the hill on the Buda side of the Danube. But, by chance, we did get to see a group of Hungarian school children on a field trip marching down the street near the National Museum in their Hussar hats.

Of the many beautiful buildings in Budapest the Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most stunning while it embodies and symbolizes democracy.

"Hungarian Paliament seen at night from Castle Hill, Budapest"

Hungarian Parliament at night

It is the third largest Parliament building in the world and the largest in Europe and is modeled after the Parliament building in London. It is also one of the most ornate buildings and holds the Crown of Saint Stephen displayed prominently and guarded beneath the main dome. It was built between 1885 and 1904 and inaugurated during the celebration of Hungary’s 1000th anniversary in 1896.

"Monument at Parliament in Budapest commemorating 1956"

Monument at Parliament commemorating 1956

Visiting Budapest brought its history alive. We were impressed with the sense of pride and patriotism of the people we encountered. The other key revolt was in 1956 against the Russians and there are many memorials commemorating the revolt and heroic Hungarians that died. It also has its own national holiday on October 23rd.

"Protestors gather on Castle Hill in March 2013"

Protestors gather on Castle Hill

We were also able to be part of history in the making. Hungary has been very much in the news with opposition to constitutional changes proposed by the Fidesz party (Hungarian ruling party) and approved by the Hungarian Parliament. We observed a large pro-democracy protest on Monday March 11, 2013 to urge the Prime Minister to veto the changes. The protest was peaceful but energetic as men, women and children gathered to protest the changes that many see as a restriction of democracy.

To our Hungarian friends, we toast you on this Hungarian national holiday!

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22 thoughts on “Hungarian National Holiday: Celebrating Freedom

  1. Leigh

    Sounds like an interesting time to be in Hungary – timed or coincidence?
    The photo of the Parliament Buildings at night is what I think of when I think of Budapest – that and the baths. Curious if you had time for those.
    My eastern European history is not the best but I do know that Hungary has had far too many wars. I hope they stay on a peaceful path forever.

    1. Cathy Post author

      It was really a coincidence, Leigh. I almost hate to admit that we didn’t have a thermal bath experience. We even stopped in at one of them, but decided we just didn’t have the time. Next trip — definitely doing it.

  2. Jennifer

    How fantastic you got to take part in the holiday preparations. This is when you truly feel the local vibe and patriotism of a country. Can’t wait to hear more of what you got up to in Budapest!

  3. jenny@atasteoftravel

    What a great tome for you to be in Budapest. I am yet to travel there but my daughter has spent a bit of time there and regales stories that intrigue me. I really must include eastern Europe on my itinerary very soon

    1. Cathy Post author

      I hope to get to more countries in Eastern Europe soon. Interesting that Hungarians really don’t think of themselves in Eastern Europe — more like Central Europe.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I was hoping that we’d have time to venture further afield, too, but there was so much right in the city, we just ran out of time.

  4. Sophie

    I’ve been in Budapest many times and I see I know precious little of Hungarian history before the 20th century. So interesting to be in a country on its national day and see how they celebrate. Isn’t the Parliament building beautiful?

  5. Mary @ The World Is A Book

    What a great experience and wonderful timing to be in Budapest. I haven’t been to Budapest yet but I have always admired that beautiful Parliament building. One of my good friends is Hungarian and I loved seeing here pictures from her last visit there. Looks like another awesome visit for you and Mr. TWS.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Awesome is right. Loved every minute in Budapest. It was even more beautiful than I expected – and the Parliament building is totally stunning, especially at night.

  6. Orso Curioso

    Living in The Czech Republic gives me fairly close proximity to Budapest (7 hour bus or train ride), so I go as often as I can. It’s one of my favourite cities. I missed the holiday time on the 15th, but I’ll be going in 2 weeks — really looking forward!!!! Enjoyed reading your blog on your visit to there. 🙂

  7. Pingback: 5 Reasons I Went Back: Budapest Highlights » Traveling with Sweeney

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