CV NEWS FEED // On August 20, Hungary celebrated its first Christian king, St. Stephen, with fireworks and a drone light show that formed a cross over Budapest’s Parliament building—the same building once topped with a Soviet star.
Held in the nation’s capital, the public celebration on the Feast of St. Stephen has been a tradition in Hungary since 1991, though the day itself has been a national holiday in various forms since 1771. The holiday honors the nation’s Christian history.
While Christian religious practices have decreased in Western Europe, Christianity is stable, or even on the rise, in many Eastern European countries.
In Hungary, for instance, more than half the population is Catholic, while nearly 80% identify as Christian. According to 2018 Pew Research, Hungary is 56% Catholic, 20% Protestant, 3% other, and 21% “none.”
But while almost 80% of Hungarians identify as Christians, only 15% attend church regularly, reported the Guardian.
Though church attendance may be low, the country went all-out in its celebration of St. Stephen. This year’s festivities included a storm of 34,000 fireworks from 230 launch points as well as a drone light show that featured shimmering, spinning symbols of Hungary’s history.
During the show, 900 drones formed the Hungarian coat of arms and then turned into the Crown of St. Stephen. Finally, the drones morphed into a large cross, illuminating the night sky.
When Hungary was under a Communist regime, a nearly 10 foot-wide red star decorated the Parliament building until the fall of the Iron Curtain. The 3,000 pound emblem imitated Josef Stalin’s red stars in the Kremlin.
Now, in 2023, the country is free to celebrate its Christian heritage. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, known as a defender of “Christian Democracy,” has called Christian culture “the cornerstone that holds the architecture of European civilization in place.”
“Christian democratic politics means that the ways of life springing from Christian culture must be protected … These include human dignity, the family and the nation—because Christianity does not seek to attain universality through the abolition of nations, but through the preservation of nations,” said Orbán.
Journalists have pointed out that these public Christian symbols are scarce in Western Europe and the United States.
Rod Dreher, author of “Live Not By Lies” and “The Benedict Option,” and who lives in Budapest, shared a tweet with an image of Budapest with the cross above it, and an image of New York City on Easter 1956, where its skyscrapers showed crosses in a window light show.
“My friend James Card observes: ‘What was unthinkable in Hungary in 1956 is happening in 2023, and what happened in New York in 1956 is unthinkable in 2023,’” said Dreher in the tweet.
Though Orbán has faced criticism for making Hungary less democratic and an “authoritarian kleptocracy”, Dreher credits Orbán for his public support of Christianity, writing, “This is what it means to have a leader who is a Christian and not ashamed of it. This is what it means to have a leader who believes that the faith that was inseparable from the founding of the nation is vital to its survival.”
Perhaps Orbán takes inspiration from Hungary’s first Christian ruler, St. Stephen, who first Christianized the nation.
Born in about 975 A.D., St. Stephen ruled Hungary for almost 40 years until his death in 1038. During his rule, St. Stephen Christianized Hungary by establishing a tithing system to support churches and serve the poor, ruling that one out of every 10 towns needed to build a church. His final prayer on his deathbed was, “To thee, O Queen of heaven, and to thy guardianship, I commend the holy Church, all the bishops and the clergy, the whole kingdom, its rulers and inhabitants; but before all, I commend my soul to thy care.”