One of the first things I was told when I got to her Hungarian was about oaks and their importance in local folklore. Imagine the scene: after hours of flat countryside, interrupted only by a few pastures and groups of horses and cows, immersed in a rural and almost mystical atmosphere, here comes a traditional story, of how the oaks have always been fundamental for the survival of the population and its development, especially in Debrecen.
In particular, the oaks with their malleable but solid wood, so widespread in this country, have always been used to build the typical Hungarian roofs: sloping, to help in case of heavy snow - now less and less frequent, but once upon a time rather on the agenda in the harsh East-European winter, and mostly composed of wood, because it is easy to find, therefore not too expensive and also useful for keeping the heat better.
But the oak has not only a material value in Hungary: folklore is full of it, legends and myths almost always refer to this tree, often connected to the idea of strength and wisdom. Fairies of oaks, elves, wizards, there are many characters who have inhabited or cursed them, and then end up being punctually punished.
In particular, for anyone wishing to visit a place steeped in these myths, I can suggest Hedervar: it is a small village, often cut off from many guides, but which houses at its center the Aprad Oak, the oldest tree in the whole of country, and as the name suggests it is obviously an oak. Legend has it that King Aprad, 820 years ago, tied his horse to this tree - hence some rather evident signs on the bark - with a rope, to mark one of the borders of his territory. To date, the oak is supported by a metal structure and two of its three branches are actually dead, but this only encourages its role and its importance in popular tradition.
The most famous story, however, remains that of the oak tree fairy: it is a story for children, for the most part, which still remains felt and alive today. In the legend, a fairy, protector of a luxuriant oak tree, ends up falling in love with a King and living her life with him, marrying him, helping to make the oaks stronger and more prosperous in her land, hence probably the explanation why these plants are such fundamental protagonists for the local tradition.
To this day I continue to find these fascinating and magical legends: in a society where we often tend to forget our roots and origins, it is nice to see how here, in some ways, time is still standing when people handed down stories to each other in front of a fireplace and spoke of fairies and spirits that lived around him. Although Hungary is a technological and developing country, at times it seems to me that the folklore here is even more alive than ever, and that it is ready to reappear when one least expects it.
An example? Oak wood is still used massively today, it cannot be used in the construction of houses - more and more modern - but in the creation of barrels: not everyone knows it but Hungary is the home of wine, first of all Tokaj, and wood oak is great for this use. Precisely because it is easy to work, it folds easily without creating cracks, still allowing the wine to breathe and giving it a unique flavor and texture. In particular, the wood used comes mostly from the forests of Mecsek and Zemplén, two of the areas with the most oaks in the entire territory.
Fun fact : the oak it’s also integrated as decoration in the monument of Heroes Square, in the heart of Budapest, which celebrates hungarian heroes and their battles.
In short, Hungary has a deep bond with oaks and if you visit this country you cannot help but notice them everywhere, especially in the smaller villages, and remember: acorns are often considered a symbol of good luck, even more so if given as gifts.