Scary Mask Festival!

Nana: What’s that scary mask for?

Nina: It’s a Busójárás festival mask, Nana.

Nana: Do I want to know what that is?

Nina: Of course. There is an interesting bit of story behind it. You see….

Nana: There always is. Spare me the lecture.

Nina: Come on, Nana. You are going to celebrate this festival with me. The Busojaras festival in Hungary is an event held to scare off colder days and pay homage to the Battle of Mohacs which was fought during the Ottoman times.

Ending the day before Ash Wednesday, Busójárás is a celebration and affirmation of life for the Šokci, the ethnic Croatian minority population living in Mohács. During the penultimate night of the festival, a man made of straw is carried by cart into the center of town and then burned in a bonfire while the townspeople hold hands and dance the kolo in a circle around the blaze.

According to the most popular legend, during the Ottoman times of the territory, people from Mohács fled the town, and started living in the nearby swamps and woods to avoid Ottoman (Turkish) troops. Legend has it that an old Šokac man appeared suddenly one day amongst the fleeing people and urged them to be battle ready by creating war weapons as well as scary masks until a masked knight appeared before them. The refugees followed his orders, and some days later, on a stormy night, the knight arrived. He ordered them to put on their masks and go back to Mohács, making as much noise as possible. They followed his lead. The Turks were so frightened by the noise, the masks, and the storm in the night, that they thought demons were attacking them, and they ran away from the town before sunrise.

Nana: Hold on a sec! I actually read about this. The male busos wear a traditional sheepskin cloak, women’s wool stockings under men’s pants, and a carved monster mask. The buso’s mask isn’t to simply change his outer appearance according to the tradition. Instead, it is to alter the personality of the person behind the mask.  The woolen stockings are part of a carnival pagan tradition embracing the duality of male and female. Do you think if you wear a mask portraying a quiet facade, you will actually stop yapping about every little thing you do now, as a part of the personality makeover?

Nina: Of course not, Nana. After all, Busojaras is anything but a quiet festival. Even the visitors to the city can’t help being dragged into the celebrations. It’s quite common for adult spectators to have flour thrown on them or be offered drinks from large flasks of spiced wine during the festival.

Nana: Well, I am scared enough of your daily lecture. Don’t add this terrifying mask. I have to say – when I initially saw you in the mask, I thought you were going to lecture me on the Celtic origins of Halloween and why people wear weird masks during the occasion. In any case, before you start singing:

Flutter, flutter little bat,

How I wonder what you are at,

etc etc

Please leave me out of your “festive” celebrations. But I do have a question. How do you scare off cold weather?

Nina: Ah, Nana. That’s the other part of the legend. The busos people hated cold weather so much that the scary masks were used to chase away terribly cold weather. Fun, isn’t it?

Nana: What would be fun for me is for you to run along and vanish from my sight until you finish playing around with that dreadful mask. Shoo..


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