Christmas in Hungary
Growing up with foreign parents things have always been a little different. My parents immigrated from Hungary to Canada more than 20 years ago. They grew up, went to school, and met in Hungary, but they ended up getting married and settling here in Canada. I experienced a lot of culture clash growing up especially when it came to food, way of life, and tradition. We’d be here forever if I told you all the ways I was slightly confused as a child because things were just done differently at home. But since it’s the holiday season, talking about Christmas traditions in Hungary seems like a good place to start. A lot of people have heard of Ukrainian Christmas, but until I tell them, people don’t realize that Christmas is a little different in Hungary as well.
Hungarian children get gifts twice during the Christmas season. The first time children get gifts is on December 6th, which is the Day of St. Nicholas (Mikulas). This is when children get gifts like candies and small toys when they leave out their stockings, shoes, or boots by the fireplace or windowsill the night before. Children will also get a piece of coal or a small tree branch alongside their gifts as a reminder to be good. Obviously because I’m older it doesn’t happen anymore, but I remember when I was younger some of my family members in Hungary would send my brother and I candies in the mail.
Now, you can’t have St. Nick without his companion Krampus. This figure is not just popular in Hungary, but I believe in most European countries as well. The best way to describe Krampus is that it’s the Christmas demon. This is mostly because Krampus looks like Satan.
My parents told me that it was common to see St. Nick (Santa) travel around Town or visiting schools with Krampus, serving as another reminder for children to behave.
The second time children get gifts is on Christmas Eve (Szent-este). This is when the Christmas tree is set up and decorated and gifts are placed underneath. Children are not allowed to enter the room the tree is in until they’re given permission by their parents, which is marked by the ringing of a bell (or they were just called into the room). Children are told that angels or Baby Jesus came to deliver the tree and gifts for them.
Since children get their gifts on Christmas Eve and that’s when the tree is decorated, this night usually marks the first real day of Christmas in Hungary. It’s when most families would have their Christmas dinner. Some families serve a fish dish, often times fish soup called “Halaszle” which is made with carp or other freshwater, but chicken and pork are also commonly served as the entree. Side dishes like stuffed cabbage is popular and they finish off the meal with special desserts like poppy seed (or walnut) rolls (Beigli). Hungarians also have this candy called “Szaloncukor,” which is also used to decorate the tree instead of candy canes. Then most families go to church after their Christmas dinner. Celebrations continue on Christmas Day with people visiting their families.
In Hungarian, Merry Christmas is “Boldog Karacsonyt” or “Kellemes Karacsonyi Unnepeket” (pleasant Christmas holidays).