- 8 Jan 2019 4:22 PM
Farsang is the period to eat, drink and be merry before Lent, as Lent is the period of fasting and abstinence which begins on Ash Wednesday.
The traditional Farsang season peaks on Shrove Tuesday, after which all merriment officially stops for those who strictly adhere to the religious customs, which have continued since the Middle Ages. In the days of feudalism, all social classes were practically grounded by the fact that the earth was frozen and covered with snow during the winter months, so could not be worked.
Royalty and landowning aristocracy capitalized on this fact to hold great wedding feasts and balls, which were also organized by the various guilds of tradesmen and confraternities.
Older people remember the period between the two world wars as a time when the most brilliant parties took place.
These were always held in the elegant hotels along the Danube bank (practically all destroyed in the Second World War) and in the Vigadó.
The balls were organized by the various professions, as well as such elite organizations as the Nemzeti Casino (to which the titled aristocrats belonged), the Országos Casino (the upper and middle-class club which included landowners, the minor nobility, gentry, industrialists and professionals) and the Lipotvárosi Casino (now the Duna Palota) of wealthy upper-class Jews.
It was usual for families with marriageable daughters to invite a whole host of eligible young men to the balls and to private parties in their homes during the Farsang season.
"These were very elegant events, with everyone dressed in strict evening wear, the women beautifully coiffured and dressed in custom-made long gowns and the men in white tie and tails," said Mrs Hlatchky-Schlichter, whose father headed the National Horse Breeding Association in Alag outside Budapest until the Second World War.
Another octogenarian remembers one of the Farsang balls in the early 1940s: It was held in the grand area of the Gellért Hotel which leads to the thermal baths. The dancing took place in the great barrel-vaulted hall where the orchestra played and the buffet was in the Gellért’s dining room, from which large double doors gave access to the dance area.
The music, lighting and atmosphere in the huge hall were enchanting and it was special because of the beautiful young people who danced and their parents and families who all knew each other and enthusiastically took part in the merrymaking.
Hungary, and indeed the world, has changed considerably during the six decades since those days of yore.
Trends have changed, both in custom and dress, and there are so many organizations which want to get on the calendar that the traditional Farsang season is just not long enough. Because of this, some organizations set the date after the traditional cut-off time of the evening of Shrove Tuesday and the Farsang balls go on into March, only ending before Holy Week which immediately precedes Easter.