The capital with the eye of an expat
Kids and what they can teach you
As I am living a life without issue, it’s little wonder that the phenomenon that is Children’s Day passed me by. All these years in Hungary and I’ve never noticed before how on the last Sunday in May, entire families wander the city in their best bib and tucker with the kids looking every inch the young masters and mistresses they are.
Perhaps I noticed this year because the usual swell of tourists is notably absent. Or perhaps I was subconsciously looking for something good in what is rapidly becoming a pretty nasty year.
Apparently, Children’s Day began on the second Sunday in the June of 1857 when a pastor at the Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Chelsea, Massachusetts, USA, one Dr Charles Leonard, presided over a special service dedicated to children. He originally named it Rose Day, which later morphed into Flower Day before becoming Children’s Day.
Like Mothers Day – celebrated on the first Sunday in May in Hungary, and in Ireland on the mid-Lent Sunday – Children’s Day is celebrated around the world on different days.
Turkey was the first country to make it a national holiday on 23 April 1920. Globally, the 1925 World Conference on Child Welfare in Geneva announced International Children’s Day.
In Moscow, on 4 November 1949, the Women’s International Democratic Federation established 1 June as the International Day for Protection of Children. Since 1950, 1 June is celebrated as Children’s Day in former Soviet Union countries and most communist and post-communist countries, too. Except Hungary.
World Children’s Day is celebrated on 20 November to commemorate the Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the UN General Assembly on that day in 1959. Hungary marks this occasion as a “global day of action ‘for children, by children’ to raise awareness of children’s rights and issues affecting youth, such as lack of education, safe places to play and learn, and the impact of violence, bullying and poverty”.
As with just about anything these days, there are multiple accounts of the origins of Children’s Day in Hungary, with many sites simply saying that Hungary’s annual celebration of children officially began in 1931, not with a day but with a week of festivities. This tapered back to just one day in 1950 and from then, until now, it has been celebrated on the last Sunday in May.
But Gergely Flier, in a 2021 article commemorating the 115th anniversary of Children’s Day in Hungary, tells a different story. He says it began as a fundraising event in 1906 when the National Child Protection League was born to promote the well-being of children and ran till 1948:
“For four decades has the Child Protection League put its urns out in every spring, and near these, all groups of society meet as collectors and as donors. There are traditional children’s days on Fridays and Saturdays on May 7 and 8 this year. On the streets of the capital, the usual leaded boxes of the League appear at about 130 sites. The most distinguished ladies of Hungarian society undertook patronage and fundraising.”
Whatever its origins, it’s celebrated in Hungary on the last Sunday in May, the day when kids get to choose where to go, what to do, and where and what to eat. It’s all about them.
I can’t believe I’d never noticed before but then, why would I?
On the #6 tram from Corvin Negyed to Széll Kálmán tér, I thought I was hearing things. Each stop was announced by a child’s disembodied voice. Harminckettesek tere, Rákóczi tér, Blaha Lujza tér , Wesselényi utca/Erzsébet körút, each one clearly enunciated with varying degrees of sophistication. Király utca/Erzsébet körút, Oktogon, Nyugati pályaudvar, Jászai Mari tér – that one had me checking the spelling and yes, I’ve been mispronouncing it for years. Margitsziget/Margit híd, Margit híd, budai hídfő, Mechwart Liget, Széna tér and Széll Kálman tér, the latter appropriately named after the prime minister behind the child protection laws of 1901 and the birth of institutional child protection in the country.
As we moved from stop to stop, something strange happened. I found myself smiling. Given how much I dislike the teeming masses, this was remarkable enough for me to, well, remark upon. Even if to myself, as I wondered what exactly was happening? What had resonated with me?
I settled on a few things: the pride the kids so obviously took in their job, delivering their lines with aplomb; their idealistic enthusiasm for the task; and the innate innocence that permeated each syllable. Their voices were clean, unsullied, still full of promise.
Later that day, or perhaps it was the next, on the #17 tram from Katinyi mártírok parkja to Széna tér, I was making eyes at a toddler with two teeth sitting in his pushchair across the aisle. He was nibbling on a biscuit. As we made eye contact, he smiled at me and then stretched out his hand offering me what was left of his snack. I politely declined. He tried again. Again I declined. He looked at me as if I were mad in the head, shaking his in bemusement.
Next to me was another pushchair with yet another toddler. This chap had six teeth, so he presumably was older. He was nibbling on a piece of bread. We made eye contact. We both smiled. And he, too, reached out to me offering me his bread. I politely declined. He tried again. Again I declined.
Then the two kids looked at each other and I swear I saw them shrug.
When did we lose this instinctive need to share? At what age did we decide to horde, to keep stuff to ourselves? Why did we stop reaching out, trusting those we interacted with to meet us halfway and share what we had to share?
I was reminded of my conversation with Sam Cartwright from The English Garden last month and her comment about kids being really open to other kids. They pass no remarks on creed, breed or generation. They don’t see colour or ideologies. They don’t see differences. Would we were all so.