Sources vary on the origin of combining the feast of new bread with August 20th.
What we do know is that, today, the commemoration includes the idea of the founding of the State of Hungary by St. Stephen in the year 1000, a remembrance of his life and work, and the blessing of the new bread in the context of a harvest festival. (At one point, August 20th was also observed as the day of the Hungarian constitution.)
Ten years ago, a program called ”15 million grains of wheat” (representing the 15 million Hungarians around the world) was initiated to help those in need. The goal was to collect wheat, donated by Hungarian farmers for charitable purposes, for blessing and distribution on August 20th.
The idea caught on, and Hungarian farmers – living not only in Hungary, but also in the surrounding countries where they find themselves since the dictated ”Treaty” of Trianon – sent tons of wheat to the central collection spots.
Donations were poured together, then blessed, before being ground into flour and baked into bread and buns. That first year, left-over flour was donated to Franciscan Böjte Csaba’s thousands of orphans, providing bread for them for 4 months.
As the years went by, more and more settlements joined in the project. In 2013, 400 settlements sent their contribution.
The Department of Agriculture began to support the endeavor, and by 2014, 44 stations were ready to receive the 215 tons of wheat offered that year. By then, the number of recipients could be expanded, and included the Reformed Children’s Home in Nagydobrony, Subcarpathia (now in the Ukraine), Baranya County’s children’s welfare society, as well as other children and adults in need.
In 2015, Vajdaság, the northern part of Serbia which had been part of Hungary until the ”Treaty” of Trianon, which had been part of Hungary’s ”breadbasket”, also joined the program. That year the program was extended to include the whole Carpathian Basin and the Diaspora. The new joint contribution amounted to 440 tons that year, from 3,100 donors.
Every year, the leaven comes from a different Hungarian settlement, although the salt usually is provided by Parajd mine of Transylvania (see MNO, January 2017), as there are no salt mines left in Hungary since Trianon. The water used to bake the bread often comes from the Tisza, which had been called the most Hungarian river, since its entire length had been inside the borders of Hungary before Trianon.
Leaven in 2015 came from a town in Vajdaság. By this time, 20 mills ground the flour, and 109 children’s welfare societies benefited from the donation, representing every county in Hungary.
Church leaders from all denominations take part in the blessing of the wheat in the fields in May, and at the mingling of the wheat and the slicing of the new bread.
By 2018, 5,019 farmers had pledged donations. The number of charitable organizations benefiting from the donations also increased. This was also the year when the program was granted the title Magyar Örökség – Hungarian Heritage – joining a list of institutions and groups which have contributed to the spiritual and moral advancement of society.
Last year, almost 5,700 Hungarian farmers from within and from outside of Hungary donated wheat to the program. But other forms of donation are also accepted: last year, 11 desktops, 12 monitors and 4 notebooks were donated within the framework of the Bread of the Hungarians program.
This year had been declared officially to be the Year of National Cohesion, and so the symbolism of pouring together the wheat was more pronounced.
The weather this year was particularly capricious, there being a spring drought, then frost, followed by flooding rains, all of which adversely affected the harvest and delayed harvesting by several weeks. Nevertheless bread has been assured for everyone this year by a medium harvest (despite the loss of 932,000 acres to drought, frost and floods), even allowing for the export of 2 million tons of wheat.
The wheat was gathered in 89 collection points in Hungary, and several dozen more in centers outside the borders. It was blessed in an ecumenical service, and then, in a symbolic, photo-op setting, some of it was ground in Hungary’s only remaining horse-drawn mill. Twenty Hungarian mills and numerous mills outside today’s borders processed the bulk of the donated wheat into flour.
This year’s bread was baked with leaven from the Felvidék (mostly in Slovakia, since Trianon), salt from Parajd (Transylvania) and water from the source of the Fekete-Tisza, from Subcarpathia (now in the Ukraine).
Thanks to the generosity of Hungarian farmers, the Magyarok kenyere program continues to be a successful charitable outreach, while at the same time cementing community ties.