At noon, the frost that had crept through the streets in Mohács days ago, still had not lifted. There is a bustle of furs, cosy hats and bulky coats, all breathing clouds of steam. The people linger, drawn to the stalls that sold wooden toys, hot wine and sugary bread.
This is Southern Hungary in February, on a bend in the Danube, called Mohács, where the Hungarians celebrate the death of winter. I can’t help but think they are a bit too early this afternoon. The temperature reads at minus 10. And this is midday.
The Busójárás festival attempts to “scare away” winter and, with any luck, make the woman of the village become more fertile. The chosen men dress up in enormous sheep skins, and don brightly painted, almost devil-like masks, to encourage festivities. (I wondered exactly about the initiation process that the men have to go through to graduate as one of the honoured sheep men. Is being a ‘stud’ enough?) They spend most the day creeping up on the woman in the village and sprinkling water on them. If you’ve been watered, it bodes well for your fertility. Keep well away, if you’re superstitious and do not want your virility encouraged. It is all too easy to be warming your hands on a glass of hot white wine when a woolly elder sweeps in and, well… I am being deadly truthful here, thrusts your bum. Some might say it’s a sheep shagging carnival. I suppose there’s nothing too wrong with that.
This is a great idea for a festival. Hurrying on the warmer weather. Watching the unusual dancing and rituals of the sheep-men whilst drinking the herbal hot white wine that is served in vats from the corners of every other stall. It expels a heady scent, which wafts through the dancing.
As dusk descends with the temperature, the crowd gathers round the huge bonfire on which they burn a wicker man. The sheep men race around the bonfire in wooden carts, occasionally grabbing an unsuspecting woman and dragging her into the cart. The brittle air is full of woman’s laughter. It’s all good-natured fun. You get the feeling that the village lives for this festival every year. It’s their night. Happy Mohács day!