On an average day—in Spring, let’s say—the little town of Mohács is home to less than 20,000 people. There are a few factories at the edge of town where many work building giant agricultural machines, and the neighboring city, Szekszárd, is a noted grape and wine-producing region. And on this average day, Mohács surely embodies what most people think of as a quiet down in southwestern Hungary.
But everything changes during Carnival when the Busós arrive.
In Hungarian, the Busójárás means the Busó march or parade. It takes place every year during Carnival, and if you want to know more about the history, read my previous post.
Yes, the Busós (or the men and women dressed like them) were said to have followed the apparition of a warrior knight back into Mohács to reclaim the city from the evil, Ottomon Turks. There is a little bit of that story left in the modern celebration. But the Busós today really embody the mischief and fun that goes on throughout the world during Carnival.
The Busó is Iktomi. The Busó is Trickster.
We went for the Busójárás’ main celebration day: the Sunday before Lent begins. And we arrived just in time to see a group of Busós ride a boat across the Danube to the banks of Mohács. They guided to the shore by a raging bonfire.
Then all of the Busós, which must have numbered in the hundreds from all over central Europe, paraded from the river into the center of the city.
And the city (along with the tens of thousands of visitors there to participate in the event) paraded with them.
The people who live along the parade route watch from windows, rooftops and doorways.
Enterprising townspeople sold coffee and spirits on the sidewalk. And occasionally, the Busós stopped in tight alleyways or opened houses for a celebratory toast.
In addition to Busós, there were other people in traditional costumes: women wearing folk dresses, Croatian and Transylvanian, faces covered by lace, a play on mourning and modesty. Keeping in the ghosts.
As scary as they looked in the costumes, the Busós really accommodated the thousands of people wanting pictures and poses. Some were more mischievous than others. Györgyi was poked in the caboose by one of their walking sticks, and we were both squirted with a little, masked water gun.
But we didn’t get doused in coal or goose feathers. And we stayed out of the nets.
I personally was a fan of the Busó accessorizing; especially the donuts pierced through the sheep horns.
There was so much music and groups of folk dancers seemed to just pop up on the side of the parade whenever people felt inspired to move. And even though Carnival is usually geared toward adults, there were plenty of activities that accommodated the younger Busós.
At one point we passed the coffin, which was said to carry Winter, that terrible monster. Later that night, the Busós would again parade to the river where they would light the coffin, and Winter, on fire.
After a few hours, we watched the lead Busó start the final push to the river, with a band following close behind. A few carried Turkish heads on sticks, just as a reminder of the past.
See, this is why people love Europe. It’s not just the monuments or the food or the universal health care. It’s during events such as the Busójárás where you really feel the link between the people and tradition—tradition that is not just historical, but participatory. The Mohács Busós bring out the best of old Europe. Blending legend and mystery with everyday life.
As we walked back to the car, it was as if I could see Hungary just a little bit better. We departed the parade line and found a few Busós on a side street. They smiled, called out the cheers—Egészségedre—Bless you.
After all, we all have a little Busó in us. We revere the past. Wish for winter to go. Eat snacks and drink hot wine on the hood of a car on a cold, nearly spring evening.
And every so often, even the most mischievous among us, are caught gazing deep into the blue Danube from the banks of a small, working-class town.