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The history of Anna Balls

The most important social gathering around Lake Balaton, the Anna Ball of Balatonfüred.

With the blooming debutants, exhilarating gypsy music, and pomp and splendor, the ball tries to recreate an age that may never have been.

The origins of the ball are mythically obscure. But tradition has it the first ball was organized on the day of St Anna, July 26, 1825 by Fülöp János Szentgyörgyi Horváth in honor of his daughter named, wait for it, Krisztina. (Some sources claim that one of her five Christian name was actually Anna, but there’s no proof of that.) Krisztina, the debutant met her future husband, Ernő Kiss at the ball. The name might ring a bell, as he was one of the 13 heroes of the 1848-49 freedom fight who was executed inArad in 1849. Although legend has it that his devoted wife went to Arad to take her husband’s body home, Krisztina was long dead by that time, and Ernő never remarried.

By the 1830s the ball became so successful that the society columns of newspapers all reviewed it. After the fall of the 1848-49 freedom fight, the Anna Ball was a major meeting place for the opposition, the greatest minds of the age all danced and dined there, even future prime minister Kálmán Széll met his wife-to-be at the ball. No wonder that this was the time when Austrian waltz and French minuets were excluded from the playlist and nationalistic palotás (a Hungarian dance that includes some elements of folk dance) made its first appearance.

At the end of the 19th century, the railway construction on the southern shore of Lake Balaton brought the Anna Ball to a temporary stop. Funnily enough, the ball made its comeback in one of the drabbest ages, the 1950s. As the oldest, and longest running Hungarian merriment, the Anna Ball even made it into the Guinness World Records book. From 1957 onwards, the Belle of the Ball and her maids of honor were selected from the debutants. Every girl wore a heart with a number in her neck, and an Olympic voting system guaranteed that none of them went home without a single point. Until the 1980s, the Anna Ball was the only official beauty pageant in the country, so the girls who won became instant celebrities. Today, the winner goes home with the Apple of Eris and the runner-ups get Herendi porcelain vases. On the Sunday after the ball, the belles parade through the town of Balatonfüred, waving graciously to awestruck mortals.

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