As the upcoming “Holy Days” connected to Easter draw near, I thought it would be neat to explore some of the words associated with these moments in Hungarian. I won’t be exploring the word “Easter” here, but if you want to read more – here are some interesting thoughts to start with. My intent here is to share some of what we’ve experienced here with friends back in the US, but also to help all readers from any culture to reflect on the Truth and mysteries we celebrate in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I don’t have space to explore all the words/aspects of each day, but will only highlight a few.
The Lenten season of 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter is called “nagyböjt“, which literally means “big/great fast” (fast as in giving up something, not a high speed). We use the word “nagy” (pronounced similar to “nodge”) regularly here, when ordering food for our family. Usually the bakery employee will be putting rolls in a bag, with big eyes, and I’ll smile and nod saying: “Igen, nagy csaladom van.” (Eegen, nodge chah-lahdohm vahn) This means “Yes, I have a big family.” 40 days is definitely a “big/great” time to set aside preparing for the resurrection. As a traditional season of preparing for baptism, even those of us who have already been baptized are invited to use this time to examine ourselves: How can I grow this year by dying to self in a new way, coming to New Life in Jesus? How can I humble myself, or grow in my Love of God or neighbor?
One week before Easter, here in Hungary we celebrate “Virágvasárnap” (literally “flower Sunday”). In many European countries in this area where palm branches were not readily available, they used branches of flowers that became tradition. Here in Hungary, it become connected to the “Bárka” flower. What a beautiful way to declare the majesty of welcoming our creator-King as Lord! Along with the religious significance, we also begin to see cultural connections to folk-traditions regarding fertility and spring associated here. As with any celebration in any culture (I’m looking at you, egg hunts.) – these folk-celebrations can begin to muddle the waters, and pull our attention away from what we are truly celebrating.
Holy Week (nagyhét – “big/great week”) begins with Flower Sunday. Then comes “Nagycsütörtök” (big/great Thursday), “Nagypéntek” (big/great Friday), and “Nagyszombat” (big/great Saturday). In Hungarian, the word for “Holy” is “Szent”. I’m not sure why these days don’t begin with “Holy” instead, other than perhaps a choice by the earliest translators to focus on the momentous gravity of these days – as opposed to their natural indwelling of God’s presence. This is a great reminder for us that no day has the power in itself to transform our experience of it – yet as we recognize the great Love of the Father revealed in Jesus – turning away from self and toward His Loving Spirit – these moments carry an amazing amount of gravity to draw us in.
Finally, we begin the Easter season here in Hungary with “Húsvét“, which is probably the most interesting of the words yet. “Hús” (hoosh) means “meat”. “Vét” (vate) is a bit more complicated on it’s own, something like “violate/break”. Together it means “to take the meat”, implying an end to the season of fasting. So on Easter, you will hear greetings and see signs that say, “Boldog Húsvéti”, or “Happy Meat-Taking”. To anyone who actually gave up meat for Lent (the big fast), we omnivores would naturally be excited to celebrate being able to eat it once again.
Before my US readers “look down” on such a name for the day, let’s confess our own lack of focus on celebrating the Resurrection. Let’s admit that somewhere in the chocolate bunnies, anxious church stage-productions, and egg hunts – we often make the day all about “consuming” as well. If we’re not careful – any culture can embrace something beautiful in a way that misses the point.
Indeed – the Resurrection should be celebrated as the pinnacle and high-point of the calendar year, and this should often include Feasts (inviting/empowering the poor and powerless also). I’m not alone in believing this. We affirm this every Sunday, as we Christians gather to worship together on the first day of the week, as the 8th day of God’s creation, in commemoration of just how impactful the resurrection is to reality – resulting in the inauguration of New Creation.
May the literal definition of “Easter” in Hungarian remind us that on that Sunday – we feast on the Truth of Jesus’ resurrection as substantial meal, the “meat” that feeds and satisfies. It launches us into the Easter Season – where we should continue with celebrations and seek unique ways (both as churches and as individuals/homes) to join and proclaim the resurrection power over all forms of death, as revealed in Jesus. Unfortunately, as others have lamented, we often make it to Easter, and then seem to immediately take a break spiritually. Officially the “Easter Season” as declared on the Christian calendar should last until Pentecost (pünkösd) which is 50 days later (not counting Sundays). As a family, we try to celebrate “Easter Week” by doing something special each day the week after. As Christians, we are testifying to the resurrection every Sunday we gather and are sent out as “New Creations”.
Hungarians take this celebration at least one day after Easter with the folk traditions of “Húsvéthétfő” (literally “meat-taking-Monday”, obviously “Easter Monday“). The boys find girls to sprinkle water or perfume on, which is much better than the older tradition of dumping an entire bucket of water on her as a “fun” sign and celebration of blessings for fertility. It may sound silly to some of us – but it’s no more silly than pretending Easter is important, and then moving on with life as normal each year.
So how can we respond to a season where so much meaning can be found in the words we use? Let us find renewed focus on the Living Word. Let’s celebrate not just with “Happy Easter” but with “He is Risen!” (Jézus feltámadt!) on this Resurrection Sunday and the weeks after. Let us remember that on Easter, we find the full “meaty” meal of our new creation celebrated, of which we often only taste samples or side dishes of. In response, let’s forgive debts. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s invite the uninvited. Let’s help the wounded (including ourselves) find healing. Let’s welcome the stranger.
Let’s express ourselves in creatively loving ways this year in worship to a creative & loving God…