New Years Eve in Budapest is without a doubt one of the most exciting events in all of Europe. Forget your notions about New Years in the States where December 31st entails either an expensive ticket to a bar where you’re ultimately disappointed, or a house party comparable to an apocalypse (probably a zombie apocalypse after 2am). This Sage, who tends to be somewhat of a scrooge during New Years, had the time of her life in Budapest.
First and foremost, any important evening should begin with a day of preparation. What better way to relax than at a Hungarian bathhouse? It is vital to note that on New Year’s Eve, most bathhouses in Budapest are open. I personally spent the day at the beautiful and famous bathhouse: Szechenyi. It was a bit crowded during my visit, though it really just added to the experience. I witnessed locals and tourists, young and old, all together in one giant, hot, thermal bath. I even saw elderly men play a chess match for 6 hours without leaving the water! To be fair, the gentlemen could have easily been in their 20s, just with a terrible case of pruning. In any case, I HIGHLY recommend venturing to one and taking the time to relax before your night out. In fact, since my visit, I have made it a New Year’s Eve tradition to spend the day relaxing in a hot tub or swimming, even if it is at my local gym.
Apart from my own traditions, Hungarians have New Year’s Eve and New Years Day customs that go back generations. Hungarians celebrate name days: New Year’s Eve is called Szilveszter. New Year’s Eve as well as New Year’s Day are not only about drinking and recovering the following day, but are surrounded by ancient customs said to bring wealth, happiness, and health for the coming year.
As in many Eastern European countries, New Years Eve in Budapest is full of superstition. Horns and noisemakers, commonalities seen throughout the world, are used to scare off demons and evil spirits. So please, if you see a Hungarian man on New Years Eve screaming on a street corner, do not be frightened. He is probably just extremely superstitious and attempting to scare away the demons. Doing your laundry over New Years is also considered unlucky. Feeling hungry? Better stay away from chicken or fish. Hungarians avoid these dishes on New Years Day because chickens will ‘scratch’ away your luck and fish will deviously swim away with it!
From my experience, it seems New Year’s Day is all about eating, resting and visiting with family. However, New Year’s Eve is definitely about the party. The entire city comes alive. Starting around December 30th, the main streets fill up with tourists and locals alike. Small tables of entrepreneurs start to appear, selling anything from noisemakers, to brightly colored wigs, to full costumes. I imagine at one point, possibly similar to Halloween, the costumes were used as another modem to scare off demons. Though now, over time, young people have begun to use these costumes and wigs as a way to accessorize their outfits. Also, the sillier the attire, the better. No black tie events here.
When it comes to parties in Budapest, there are many planned events and happenings around the city. However, if you really want to experience a monumental evening, I strongly suggest taking a stroll to the Danube River. The people watching is fantastic and, at midnight, there is a spectacular fireworks display right over the glowing parliament buildings. As someone who has had to watch the countdown on television year after year, this was truly something special. Maybe it was the mulled wine, or maybe it was the luminescent and ancient city in front of me, but a wave of emotion took over. I knew that even if I returned to Budapest in the future, this moment would never repeat itself. Travel is about not only the physical journey, but also the mental and emotional voyage.
What a way to start the year.