According to the ethnographer Ákos Kovács, it was more a newly invented tradition than the renewal of an old one. The blessing of bread in church was indeed a long-held tradition related to the day of the Dispersion of the Apostles (July 15), and the priest would traditionally bless harvest workers and their tools leaning against the wall of the church on the day of Visitation (July 2), which in Hungary is called the day of the Blessed Lady of the Sickle (and thus the cult of the Virgin is involved with the start of the harvest, as the sickle was usually used by women.) Actual harvest festivals took place only in a few places, usually where harvest workers were hired. Some folk traditions related to harvest included a symbolic act at the end of the work, in which the landlord would be “tied” by the peasants with a rope of straw and would have to pay ransom in order to be set free: some wine, pálinka, or money. After this, the peasants would give him a wreath of grain as a final gift accompanied by a song, such as this one from Csilinyárad:
“To our landlord, we report with due respect
Today at noon we finished the grain harvest
We pray to God all the wheat kernels are large
So, from the white flour, you can bake real soft sweet bread and good loaves of bread.”
However, around 1900, the motivation behind the estate stewards’ and different types of associations’ diligence in spreading the tradition of harvest festivals was more than a noble act of honoring old traditions; the hidden agenda was to calm political tension. In the 1930s, the so-called Gyöngyösbokréta movement was in charge of the “Celebration of the Hungarian Bread” and of renewing old folk traditions, often lacking scientific rigor. Newsreels from the period show processions, with people holding wreaths, taking gifts to their landlords, and, in the name of social harmony, drinking a toast together before breaking a loaf of new bread. The subtitle reads: “The Almighty has rewarded the people of the village for their work throughout the year: The daily bread has been given.”
Text: Ádám Kolozsi | Photo edtior: István Virágvölgyi | English translation: Nóra Vörös [The original article was published in Hungarian]
The Weekly Fortepan blog is a collaboration between Fortepan and the Capa Center. The original Hungarian article can be found at: https://hetifortepan.capacenter.hu/en/harvesting
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