{109.} Parish Feasts, Markets and Fairs

A significant proportion of Hungarian peasants wandered to faraway places for seasonal work, and in this way they got to know other regions and brought home new utensils, methods of work and new customs, many of which were adopted and became general. Pilgrimages, markets and fairs where the people of many villages, or of a larger area–often of entire parts of the country–gathered together, for centuries provided special opportunities for the exchange of produce, knowledge, and customs. These meetings–opportunities for conversation and for making acquaintances–were important occasions for the exchange of material and spiritual goods, and their effect is present even today.

The búcsú (pilgrimage), is a Hungarian word of ancient Turkish origin, which included in the language of origin the meaning “absolution, forgiving of sin”. In the Hungarian language, from the Middle Ages, the word got the supplementary sense of “dispensation, pilgrimage, church festival”. The Catholic Church developed the búcsú in this form, announcing forgiveness of sins to the participants, and yet in many cases we can discover pre-Christian features in the practice, the remnants of the pagan Magyars practising their ancient customs during the 11th and 12th centuries in the depths of the forest, among rocks and springs. The respect for springs continued, and the Church, as it did all over Europe, tried to increase the belief in the miraculous powers of watering places. Series of legends developed around such springs, usually connected with Jesus and Mary. Thus, in the Székelyland, the pilgrimage around Lake St. Anna acquired a great fame, but pilgrims who hoped for cure from the water also congregated by several springs every year (Székelyudvarhely, Olasztelek, Esztelnek, etc.). In the Palots area pilgrims came from far away to the springs at Mátraverebély and Hasznos until very recent times, just as they came to a spring in the Bakony, the miraculous powers of which had been circulated in a legend. The Church usually raised a chapel on these places and tried to shape the beliefs about them to serve its own purposes.

At other places, pilgrimages were connected with certain holy pictures of statues placed in various churches and believed to effect miracles. The Greek Catholics held Máriapócs to be such a place, while the people from Szeged made pilgrimages to Radna. In Southern Transdanubia the pilgrimage to Andocs gained the biggest fame. A popular place for pilgrimage at Szeged was the church in the lower town. Every August the settlers who had moved out of here returned on foot from 30 to 40 km away to its picture of the Black Mary. Almost the entire Catholic population of Székelyland participated in the pilgrimage to Csíksomlyó. Carrying banners and singing, they marched, often for days, to the holy place, where the people of the village gave them room and board for nothing or for very little. In some places the custom of sleeping in church was preserved, as it was believed that in sleep the cure, the miracle, is {110.} more likely to happen. At some places it was reckoned to be a girl market, where the girls appeared with their full dowry. The merchants set up tents, where not only souvenirs and relics, but often articles of clothing could be bought as well. The showmen, the merry-go-round men were just as much part of the pilgrimage as the taverns, the selling of drinks, and dances. While the older folks and the sick endeavoured to touch and kiss the miraculous statue or picture, the younger ones thought primarily of entertainment.

The pilgrimage of certain villages was connected with the name day of a church’s saint. This gathering included even more secular elements. Outsiders usually came only from the neighbouring villages, because these are primarily the holidays of the village, and even the people who have migrated to other villages or even to other countries try to return home for them. The obscuring of the religious character can also be seen in the fact that even the Protestant inhabitants of the village participate in the festivities. Visiting the church is limited primarily to the older generation.

The Protestants also held pilgrimage-like gatherings that were usually connected with some outstanding historical events or other anniversaries. Thus, the citizens of Debrecen annually marched out to the Great Forest on the anniversary of the freeing of their women and daughters from the hands of the Turkish janissaries. The folk celebration of the Székely Unitarians falls at the time of the breaking of the new bread, while at other places they celebrate the day when they announced the freeing of the serfs.

43. Market

43. Market

{111.} While the basic prompting for the pilgrimages of various character originated with the Church, elements of a more or less secular nature being added, the market (piac) and fair (vásár) are first of all commercial in character, but at the same time their importance for social and cultural exchange was at least as valuable. The circle of attraction of one or another fair also coincided with the occurrence of certain ethnological phenomena.

Hungarian word usage differentiates between market and fair because the two words cover different concepts. The piac, from the Italian piazza, retains its original meaning of a relatively frequent, perhaps weekly, small-scale market in the main square of the town. Such markets may have existed already in the Middle Ages, as is suggested by the names of towns that include the name of a weekday: Tardoskedd (Tardos-Tuesday), Csíkszereda (Csík-Wednesday), Csütörtökhely (Thursday-Place), Péntekfalu (Friday-Village), Szombathely (Saturday-Place), etc.

Vásár (fair), is a pre-Conquest Iranian loanword, which also turns up often in Hungarian place names: Kézdivásárhely, Marosvásárhely, Hódmezővásárhely, Asszonyvására, Martonvásár, etc. The Hungarian word for Sunday (vasárnap), originates from the word vásár, which in essence designates the day of the fair. Throughout the entire Middle Ages and even later, the Church fought against fairs held on Sundays and holy days. In many places they were satisfied with prohibiting sales before Church service. In certain parts of Transylvania they held Sunday fairs until very recently. The other two names of national fairs: sokadalom (multitude) and szabadság (freedom), emphasize their characteristics. The first indicates that a multitude of many people gathered from wide areas, the second implies that here selling and buying could take a less restricted form.

The market and fair have left their mark on the settlement in which they played a big role. Originally the market place was situated in the centre of town, usually around the church. Accordingly a square developed. It will suffice to mention only a few among the many examples. We can find squares in place of former haymarkets at Kézdivásárhely, Kolozsvár, Hódmezővásárhely, Kecskemét, and even in Budapest whose former Haymarket Square (Szénatér) is today’s Kálvin tér. At other places the market was located not at a square but on a wide centrally located street, occupied by vendors on both sides, so that traffic could flow freely along the middle. The main street of Debrecen is like this, and was called Piac utca for a long time. No matter where the market was located, on the street or on a square, it was surrounded by a string of stores, taverns, inns, and most of the time it was the trade and administrative centre of the town or village.

Market-days were held in the market towns on almost every working day of the week, while in larger places there may have been even more than one at the same time in different parts of the town. Here, as well as in those villages that possessed the right to markets, the main market day was held on a specific day, and furthermore, in most places down to the most recent times, at some central location of the settlement. Their removal has begun only during the last decades. People from the {112.} settlement or from its immediate vicinity brought to these markets small livestock, vegetables, fruit, grain, flour, bacon, and other food products. The permanent vendors, the kofas, sold these on trestle tables, while the occasional vendors offered their wares from the ground. The local potter, wheelwright and other artisans also put out their goods. More permanent stands were set up at markets that held sales several times a week, and in these merchants sold articles of clothing and various cheap goods. The seller brought only a sample from his large quantity of grain, and if price and quality both suited the buyer, they concluded the sale at the merchant’s house.

The markets also served as an opportunity to sell unemployed work power. The day labourers looking for work stood on a smaller area, which they called “men-market” or “spitting place”. Here the gazdas hired day labourers for one or more days. If the labourers failed to find a place by 7 or 8 a.m., they dispersed, since they were not able to start work that day. The market bíró supervised the order of the market. During earlier centuries, he rented the right to collect market dues from the settlement. During the last decades this has been done by an official collector.

The best and largest fairs and national fairs usually took place where large regions and territories of different character meet. Thus we find fairs going back to the Middle Ages where the Great Plain and the mountain regions meet. We find them primarily in those market towns which possessed considerable industry. This is how the fairs of Debrecen, Gyula, Szatmár, Nagyvárad became famous. They mobilized not only the entire countryside, but caused artisans and merchants to come on carts even from great distances and frequently from other countries.

Beginning with the Middle Ages, generally four fairs were held annually. If possible, these fell on the same day of each year. Local circumstances influenced this, but in the past the name day of the town’s patron saint was never omitted from among them. Basically, however, the fairs were adjusted to the order of economic life. Research in Transylvania during the past years has shown that in the course of the year outstanding seasons for fairs developed; for example, there was a spring season, the months of April and May, when mainly the stock changed hands before being driven to pasture. The end of June and the beginning of July was essentially the time of getting ready for harvest, and items necessary for this were acquired at summer fairs. September and October were the months for autumn fairs to buy and sell produce and animals before winter came. The first part of December was the time for fairs to acquire winter clothes. The most important among those listed, in volume and otherwise, were the spring fairs.

Fig. 13. The ground-plan of the fair for commodities.

Fig. 13. The ground-plan of the fair for commodities.
Gyula, Békés County. 1935
1. Second-hand ware 2. Cabinet-makers and upholsterers 3. Furriers 4. Harness-makers and ropemakers 5. Drapers from Gyula and Békéscsaba 6. Drapers 7. Tailors for men 8. Coppersmiths 9. Hardware merchants 10. Vendors of sweets 11. Hatmakers, bazaar-keepers, basket-weavers, glaziers, etc. 12. Slipper-makers 13. Butchers 14. Photographers. 15. Spectacle-show 16. Rag-dealers. 17. Gingerbread dealers 18. Bootmakers

The fairs had divided into two parts in early times. The fair where wares were displayed was usually inside the city until the most recent times. If these could not fit into the square, they expanded into the neighbouring streets. Here, primarily the artisans and merchants from far and near sold all the things needed for the inhabitants of the villages and market towns. (See Plate III.) A fair was considered a holiday, and not only local government offices but even the schools closed, since the necessary clothing for the children was acquired at this time. The fairs {113.} for crops and stock (terményvásár, állatvásár) were usually located outside the city, since the large number of animals would not have fitted into the inner areas. The people of the settlements and of the vicinity brought the products and animals they wanted to dispose of, and with the money they could immediately purchase all the items they needed in the booths at the goods fair. A lot of time was of course necessary to arrange all the buying and selling, so that the big fairs lasted for two or three days.

The location of the goods fairs with stalls (kirakodó vásár) was assigned by the leaders of the settlement, who also collected money from the vendors. At first the better places were generally occupied in order of arrival, but for the last few centuries, artisans of similar trades have taken booths in certain rows, making it much easier to shop and to compare prices. In this case the artisans decided on the sequence by drawing lots or by the old method of the order of arrival. The bigger merchants often sent a man ahead so that he assured them the best selling spots.

The artisans, travelling usually in carts, tried to arrive on the afternoon or evening of the day before the fair and started immediately to set up wood-framed canvas tents. In front of these a table was placed, and on it were put the smaller wares, while the larger ones were set up in the back of the tent. As they had to guard the tent from thieves day and night, the gazda or one of his helpers slept there, while they parked the cart in the yard of an inn or at the lodging of a local acquaintance.

The important character of fairs as gathering places is well shown by the fact that most of those who came had no intention of buying or selling. They came only to meet acquaintances, friends, and relatives who lived far away, and to get information about prices. But no one was likely to return home without a present, the so-called vásárfia (“son of the fair”) was due both to the women and children. The children mostly got jackknives, whistles, candy, honey cakes and toys, while the women and girls received kerchiefs, jewelry, rosaries, pretzels and round cakes.

Fig. 14. Ground-plan of the livestock fair.

Fig. 14. Ground-plan of the livestock fair.
Gyula, Békés County. 1894.
1. Entrance. 2. Horse market. 3. Cattle market. 4. Swine market. 5. Customs building. 6. Slaughterhouse. 7. Bathing place

{114.} The vendors who sold these usually took their place in the central part of the fair and offered their wares with loud calls and frequently with verses. The peripatetic vendors usually walked around here, and they were called bosnyák (Bosnian) even if they belonged to some other nationality. They tempted the buyers with jewelry, jackknives, mirrors, chains and sometimes watches from a tray bound to the neck.

44. Selling cow-bells

44. Selling cow-bells
Hortobágy, near Debrecen

Clothes merchants were accorded the highest ranking at fairs, especially furriers (szűcs) belonging to a guild and the peasant furriers who sold both short and long sheepskin coats (ködmön) and mantles (suba). The guba-makers (makers of rough woollen coats and blankets) made their products for men, women, and children. The tailors (szabó) offered, first of all, articles of clothing, complete suits made from broadcloth. Boots were offered both by boot-makers (csizmadia) selling from booths and by vendors who carried their ware on a stick, so it was possible to buy somewhat more cheaply from them. Slipper-makers (papucsos) mostly put their wares on the ground, as did potters (fazekas). Many visited the booths of hat- and cap-makers (süveges, kalapos) to {115.} bargain for headgear. The junk dealers (ócskás) took shelter along the outskirts of the commodities fair, where used clothing exchanged hands.

The carpenters or cabinet-makers (asztalos) also occupied an important place in the display or goods fair. They exhibited all the pieces of furniture necessary to furnish a room in the style of that particular region. They sold more chests than anything else, since chests were needed in every house and the bottom was apt to rot fairly quickly since they stood on the ground. Beds, tables and benches were less frequently purchased, since these furnishings were more likely to last through two generations. The rope-makers (köteles) and harness-makers (szíjgyártó) offered halters, harness and bridles necessary to hitch up animals. The coppersmiths (rézárus) and hardware merchants (edényes) were usually located in the same row.

The fair also provided, to some extent, for intellectual needs. Booksellers sold books, usually their own publications. Prayer books, adventure stones, and above all almanacs were most in demand. Almanacs not only contained interesting articles and stories but also predicted the coming weather and gave the time and place of country fairs. Those vendors who sold, not in booths, but on the ground, on a piece of canvas, stories about highwaymen, outlaws and heroes, competed with the booksellers. Consequently, the broadside pamphlets they sold became known as “canvas” literature (ponyvairodalom) or ponyva (“canvas”). A special place is due to the chroniclers (históriás), who put in verse certain imagined or actual, perhaps even current, event, such as a robbery or murder. The authors had these verses printed at a provincial press and read parts of them at fairs and sold the prints.

The predecessors of the chroniclers were those who presented pictures of certain events and introduced them to the audience with verses of varying length, for which afterwards they were given a few pennies. It is possible to connect the origin of some more recent ballads with the activity of these “picture pointers” (képmutogató). In Transylvania and Western Transdanubia, the painters of religious icons on glass also sold their wares. The inartistic portrayals of kitchen wall hangings, another popular product sold at the fairs, contributed a great deal to making certain spheres of decorative folk art shallow.

The showmen and clowns usually stayed on one part of the fairgrounds. A merry-go-round was rarely absent. As payment, the children who pushed it to go round and round could get a free ride after four or five turns. A circus tent was put up the day before the fair and the members of the circus would go around the village or town accompanied by loud music calling attention to their arrival. The bear-dancer led his bear on a chain attached to the nose of the animal, who made a few unhappy dance-like movements to the sound of a trumpet. Fortune-tellers had guinea pigs or parakeets that could pull slips of paper out of a box, and from these the people who were willing to sacrifice some money could find out their past and future.

Among the markets for produce the most important was the grain market (gabonavásár), held in the autumn. Grain was also sold in the spring, because those who were able to store it till then got a higher {116.} price. Usually special market places were designated for this, which have survived in many areas in square names such as Búza piac (wheat market) (in Brassó, Miskolc, Nyíregyháza, etc.). The buyer dug deep into the grain sacks that were hauled on carts, because often the cleanest and best grain was poured into the top of the sack. If the sale was concluded, the buyer put the sacks on his own cart. If the buyer was a local person, the seller carried his grain home and a little refreshment was always provided for him. There was a separate place for the selling of hay, wool, reeds, and other produce.

Usually, a ditch was dug around the stock market (állatvásár) below the settlement, so that if the animals should go wild, they could not disperse. The livestock market was divided into further parts, with a separate place for the cattle, horse, sheep, and pigs, so that the animals should not mingle. Some animals were driven on foot, while piglets and fattened pigs were carried in carts with a covered top. A hut for issuing passes was built on the edge of the market place, and here the written procedures necessary for selling the animals were seen to. A smithy was usually present, and the cooks’ stall. Carts were sold, and sleds in the winter, and the makers of agricultural implements could easily market their wares (ploughs, harrows, pitchforks, rakes, etc.).

45. The fair at the Hortobágy bridge near Debrecen

45. The fair at the Hortobágy bridge near Debrecen

Herdsmen were the chief visitors to the animal fairs held in the mountain regions and on the plains. They came with their families so that their daughters could get to know and marry herdsmen if possible. {117.} Fairs held on the name days of Elek, Illés, and Vendel were all counted as herdsmen celebrations, where the feasting and dancing lasted late into the night. Herdsmen were hired at the animal fairs held on Mihály and Dömötör day. They purchased at this time herdsmen supplies and replaced articles of clothing, and bought or traded crooks and whips.

The droving of stock over great distances demanded knowledge and great natural skill. The drovers (hajcsár) were, until the end of the last century, important people in the animal trade, but subsequently, the railroad has displaced them increasingly. Their knowledge was handed down from father to son, and among them various strata also developed. The poorer ones served others all their lives and drove the stock purchased by the merchants to distances of often several hundred kilometres. Others, after acquiring a little capital, bought animals themselves and sold the stock at a profit, because they always knew at which market they could dispose of their stock at a higher price. They covered a thirty-kilometre-long journey a day, during which they had to be careful that the animals did not cause any damage to the crops or the fences, and at the same time they had to defend the stock from predators, thieves, and outlaws. The taverns were usually located on the cattle-droving roads a day’s journey apart. Here they could often find a cattle fold to keep the animals together, although the drovers still guarded them vigilantly all the time because they could never tell where trouble might come from.

A typical character at the fairs was the gypsy horse dealer (cigány kupec), who mainly dealt in horses. He bought and sold, often taking commissions–that is, he bought for someone else. He generally moved as part of a group of horse dealers. They knew the good points of horses perfectly and knew their exact value, and they always considered to whom and for what purpose they could pass on the purchased animal. The gypsy horse dealers worked together and tried to push the price down, and when they sold, they attempted by various practices and methods to mislead the buyer.

At the fair, everything was bargained for. Only a foolish person would pay the named price. First, the owner of the merchandise put a value on the item he wanted to sell. The buyer usually left this unanswered, indicating by his silence that he thought the price too high. He walked on, but if he was attracted by the merchandise, he turned back to it. If the seller recognized him, he asked the buyer to make an offer. When that happened, bargaining started, and was followed attentively by several people. This went on until the gap began to close. At this time they halved the difference and the deal was settled with a handshake.

When selling stock or larger quantities of grain, it was often the custom to drink a toast to “wet the bargain” (áldomás) (cf. pp. 659–60), paid for by the seller. The deep historical roots of this practice may be demonstrated by quoting Anonymus, the 12th-century Hungarian chronicler, who alludes to big celebrations held by the Hungarians after certain victories.

To wet a bargain at the fair, a place was necessary where it was possible to sit down and rest. Such were the cooks’ stalls (lacikonyha), {118.} located in tents along the fringes of the fair. Roast meat and sausages were served, and wines of different quality to go with them. Usually the owner and his wife cooked and baked, and served the food. The owner of the cook’s stall came from the poorer folk, who could only afford equipment he was able to carry to fairs at a day’s distance, in his own, or more often in a rented cart. He generally looked on this as a temporary expedient and hoped after scraping together a little money to rent a tavern or pub and later on to buy it outright.

A very important role was played at the fairs by the inns, pubs, and places where carts could be parked. These were huge sheds, which stood on pillars in the yard. If there was room, the horses were tied up in the barn, where they ate the fodder the owners brought along, or else the innkeeper’s men took care of everything. Gypsies played music from morning to night in the tavern, and hot food was served at all times, while some people ate out of their haversack and ordered only wine. In many places a whole system of friendship among the guests developed. The fairgoers always stopped at the same place and became good friends. In the market towns, where the village children attended higher grades, the parents who came to the fair were welcomed by the family who gave lodging to the child. The parents tried to repay hospitality by the generous quantity of foodstuffs they brought with them.

The primary function of the fairs undoubtedly was the mutual exchange of produce that came into being as the result of the division of labour. But the effects of the fairs in the area of culture are at least as important. With the exchange of products from different areas, a levelling took place between large territories in costume and frequently in work implements as well. The fairgoers learned the news, and heard of certain important events as versified orally or in print. They got access to books, and could buy the almanacs that were, for a long time, one of the most important forms of intellectual nourishments for the peasantry. The fairs, like the pilgrimages, played an extremely important role until recent decades as the meeting places of the more or less separate groups of people and in the exchange of material and intellectual culture.