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            June 2004


National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this series.
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Who runs the show: Gábor Papp, Chief Editor
 
Name of the game: National Geographic Hungary
 
When it all started: March 2003
 
Where it all happens: Budapest
 
Who makes it happen: Seven  champions of publishing, plus the chief editor
 
What goes out: About 100,000 copies a month
 
Upcoming GeoHappenings: The Wonders of Space exhibit opened at the Budepesti Planetarium in mid-March and will continue into May.
 
What keeps everyone going: "Some of us—including me—drink about four cups of coffee a day, others drink tea, and the rest eat a horrible amount of chocolate. But what we really need are tranquilizers. (Just kidding!)"
 
Best office perk: "It's not exactly a perk, but we really enjoy going out to lunch together. That's when we can loosen up, chat, and have a fun and friendly time."
 
Favorite end-of-the-workweek activity: "I look forward to spending time with my family and getting together with friends."
 
What's great about Hungarians: "We have a very American sense of humor. It's an urban kind of humor, much like New Yorkers or Woody Allen."
 
What's great about Hungary: "You can wake up early in the morning, get in your car, and be in Venice, Munich, Zurich, Milan, Berlin, Prague, or Vienna in just nine hours."

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Cultural Bests
The influences of other cultures are evident in the editor's five favorite Hungarian traditions.

1. Búsójárás
"In mid-February people converge on the southern city of Mohács by the Danube River to celebrate Búsójárás, what many Hungarians consider the country's most important festival. The tradition is centuries old, but researchers still debate its actual origin. Some believe it is a celebration of the end of winter. Others believe that in the 1500s residents of Mohács—fed up with oppression under Turkish rule—decided to scare the Turkish army off their land. They dressed up in wide white pants, sheepskin vests, and carved wood masks with sheep's horns. According to legend, when the army saw them, they thought they were being attacked by animals, so they ran all the way back to Turkey. Whatever the origin, Hungarians today—many dressed in their version of the traditional costume—celebrate on the streets with lively music, lots of food and wine, processions, and rituals using loud yelling, cattle bells, and ashes to drive out evil spirits."

2. Hortobágy Bridge Fair
"Every August 19 and 20 in the Hortobágy Puszta, the largest single area of steppe grazing land in central Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site, a national market and folk art fair is held at the kilenclyukú híd, the 'bridge with nine holes,' so named for its nine arches. Besides beautiful crafts and folk art, visitors can find all kinds of contemporary items. Traditional Hungarian singers and dancers keep the crowds entertained in the afternoons. And everyone gets their fill of delicious gulyás (goulash), slambuc (noodles with bacon, onions, and potatoes), and barbecued ox."

3. Valley of the Arts Festival
"The picturesque scenery of six small villages just north of the Lake Balaton region welcomes art lovers to the Valley of the Arts Festival. For one week in August, connoisseurs gather in Kapolcs, Monostorapáti, Öcs, Pula, Taliándörögd, and Vigántpetend for an arts festival that has taken on international proportions. Cultural enthusiasts enjoy art exhibits, evenings of literary readings, theater productions, films, and classical, jazz, and folk concerts."

4. Easter in Hollókö
"This old village in the Cserhát Hills of northern Hungary was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. It has been preserved as an example of rural life as it existed in the 17th and 18th centuries, before the agricultural revolution of the 20th century. Visitors can watch demonstrations of old craft and textile techniques executed with period tools in this living village. Hollókö is one of the best places to see how Easter is celebrated in the Hungarian custom. Villagers dress up in traditional costumes, which for young girls include richly embroidered red or blue silk skirts with as many as ten starched white petticoats underneath. Boys and girls get into plenty of mischief on Locsolkodás, or Dousing Day, celebrated on Easter Monday. As a way of wishing that the girls someday become good wives with many children, the boys chase them and douse them with buckets of water while reciting a rhyme. The girls reward their tormentors by giving them beautifully decorated eggs, bread, or a glass of brandy."

5. Visegrád Palace Games
"This 13th-century palace lies north of Szentendre at the center of the Danube Bend. For three days in July, the world of knights comes to life on its grounds with reenactments of battles that took place there. Knights in full regalia compete in jousting events. Noblemen challenge each other in fencing. Performers dressed in costumes from the Middle Ages dance to period compositions performed on Medieval-style musical instruments."

—Cassandra Franklin Barbajosa

Photographs by Vittoriano Rastelli, CORBIS (left),  Ed Kashi, CORBIS (center), and Laszlo Balogh, Reuters/CORBIS (right)
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