THANOS magazine

Hungary | September 21, 2023

The 6th Grave Digging Competition
in Hungary

A brief history of breaking taboos and current successes


The Grave Digging Competition is organized by MTFE: Magyarországi Temetőfenntartók és Üzemeltetők Egyesülete - Hungarian Association of Cemetery Maintainers and Operators.
Over the six years, this concept has significantly changed people's perceptions of cemetery service providers in the heart of Europe and has visibly contributed to breaking down taboos surrounding death.

During the first event in 2016, it was still a side event of a funeral exhibition, but from 2017 onwards, MTFE organized it as a standalone event. The Grave Digger Competition started as a professional challenge, but the media always surrounded the event. In the first two editions, only a handful of journalists paid attention, and their opinions shaped the public sentiment, resulting in many negative headlines about the competition's aim to recognize the professionalism of grave diggers.

Feeling the pressure themselves, our association changed its communication strategy. We promoted the next Grave Digger Competition openly, touching emotions and highlighting the challenges of the profession. Well-timed and stated news reports about the preparations sensitized the media's approach, allowing us to convey the feelings and needs of the profession to those outside it.


This year's Grave Digger Competition took place on September 9 in Nyíregyháza, where 16 teams competed against each other and battled the compact soil. In the first event, they had to dig a grave measuring 200 cm x 80 cm x 160 cm in 2 hours. Besides speed, precision in measurements was essential because if the jury's cage didn't fit into the grave, the team would be disqualified.

During registration, the 16 teams drew their precise spot among the pre-designated 16 graves with the help of Fortuna. It was evident after the first shovel strokes that the soil wouldn't yield easily. Some used pickaxes to loosen the compacted earth. This challenging task was tackled with the support of family members, colleagues, and friends forming cheering teams. Many attendees came just out of curiosity, as they had never seen such a competition before.

The champion of the competition was Team Paraklétosz 1. from Hajduböszörmény, with a time of 52 minutes and 16 seconds. Second place went to the Csongrád Megyei Kegyeleti Ltd. team, with a time of 1 hour, 12 minutes, and 5 seconds, while third place was secured by the Rejtély Rt. team, also from Hajduböszörmény, with a time of 1 hour, 15 minutes, and 18 seconds.

After the size check, the special contest called "Grave Burial" followed. In this competition, teams had to shovel back around 3 tons of soil into the grave and create an aesthetically pleasing grave mound in 15 minutes. The jury judged the aesthetics in this competition, and the Székesfehérvár Városgondnokság team won.

This year, thanks to Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg Megyei Temetkezési Ltd., the event also featured a second special award competition. In the "Flower Planting" creative task, teams had 15 minutes to plant 24 pansies as tastefully as possible on the grave mound and water them. The winners of the second special award were the participants from BIOKOM Nonprofit Ltd. based in Pécs.

The competition took place amid significant media attention. The VI. MTFE Grave Digging Competition already made it to the evening news with a positive tone on national television. The media's 100% positive attitude is now guiding public opinion in the right direction, not only regarding funeral culture but also in recognizing funeral service providers, which is important for grave digger colleagues. Likewise, valuing the work of grave diggers is essential for funeral companies in terms of workforce development.

The MTFE (Magyarországi Temetőfenntartók és Üzemeltetők Egyesülete) - Hungarian Association of Cemetery Maintainers and Operators is proud to actively promote these values through the Grave Digging Competition. You can watch our short film that was a finalist at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival here.

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