"One day, while walking on the streets of Hungary, if you see people wearing sheepskin and wooden masks, it means that spring is approaching."
With the approach of spring, many countries in Europe hold carnivals that symbolize the expulsion of the evil spirits left over from winter. One of these carnivals, where many representative and surreal costumes stand out, is the Busójárás!
What is the Busójárás?
Busójárás is a Šokci carnival held annually in the town of Mohács in southern Hungary, heralding the end of winter. In Croatia it is more commonly known as pohod bušara.
A Croatian/South Slavic ethnic group living mostly in southern Hungary, eastern Croatia, and northern Serbia today. Religiously, the majority of the Šokci people are Catholics.
Busójárás means “Busó-walking” in Hungarian. Busó is the name given to masked people dressed in sheepskin. These people try to scare away the winter with their scary costumes and the noises they make.
The winter season is characterized by cold temperatures and long nights. This means that nature becomes unproductive, the respiratory tract becomes sensitive, and many animals perish due to disease or starvation. Although we minimize these problems with scientific and technological developments today, these problems were of vital importance for people in the early modern period and before. This has caused the winter season to be associated with demonic creatures and evil spirits such as Bocuk, Kallikantzaros and Karakoncolos in many societies.
Therefore, with the approach of spring, many peoples hold festivals that symbolize the revival of nature and the increase of fertility. However, some of these festivities are aimed at driving away the evil spirits associated with winter. The festivities of Busójárás in Hungary, Kurentovanje in Slovenia, Rijeka in Croatia and Kukeri in Bulgaria are similar in this respect.
Spring festivities that begin with Imbolc on February 1 in the Northern Hemisphere (August 1 in the Southern Hemisphere) usually last until the end of March.
When Is It Celebrated?
Busójárás events, held annually in February, usually last six days and end the day before Ash Wednesday.
|2020||February 20 – February 25|
|2021||Canceled Due To The Pandemic|
|2022||February 24 – March 1|
|2023||February 16 – February 21|
The History of the Busó Festivities
The origin of Busójárás, a Šokci carnival, is not clear. However, it is thought that the Busójárás traditions moved to present-day Hungary with the Šokci migrations from the end of the 17th century.
Early information about the Šokci people was compiled from a 1615 document from the Ottoman Empire. When the Ottomans withdrew from Mohács in 1687, the Šokci people living in the south migrated to the north and spread towards Mohács.
The first document mentioning Busójárás festivities is from 1783. However, although there is some information about costumes and music in this document, masks are not mentioned. In 1852, Hungarian doctor Miksa Hölbling was the first to mention masks.1
According to a legend, the purpose of the masks was to scare the Ottoman soldiers away. However, this legend has been criticized for its lack of historical basis.
Legend has it that with the Ottoman domination of the region, some of the inhabitants of Mohács began to hide in the forests. One night, as they had planned, they entered the town center wearing masks and making terrible noises. The Ottoman soldiers, seeing them, thought they were attacked by demons and left the area.
Festivities and Parades
While Busójárás used to be a small-scale local carnival, nowadays there are participants from different cities in Hungary and countries in Europe to the festivities and parades.
Busójárás festivities usually last six days. During this time, many folk dances, shows, concerts, exhibitions and fairs are held in the town. With the parades, the evil spirits left over from the winter are tried to be driven out with scary costumes and some objects that make noise. On the last day of the carnival, a coffin symbolizing winter is burned with a bonfire.
These traditions were added to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009.2
Busójárás Program (2023)
Busójárás events, which were canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic, resumed in 2022.
The 2023 events will start on Thursday, February 16 and end on Tuesday, February 21. The opening event will be held on Thursday, February 16 at 2:00 PM, by the Mayor of Mohács, Gábor Pávkovics. Click here for more detailed information about the program.
It is expected that a cloudy weather will prevail in Mohács during the carnival, and temperatures will vary between -1°C and 14°C.
- “Busójárás az élő rítus”, Zoltán Füredi, Academia.edu, 2002
- “Busó festivities at Mohács: masked end-of-winter carnival custom“, Intangible Cultural Heritage, UNESCO