Previously mentioned, Mikulas, Hungary’s equivalent to Santa Claus, visits on the evening of December 5. So if he comes earlier in the month, then what do Hungarians do for Christmas?
The weeks leading up to Christmas is known as advent and is observed with an advent wreath made up of four candles – three purple ones and one pink. On each of the Sundays leading up to Christmas, one of the candles is lit. A Hungarian friend of mine invited me to light these candles with her.
Christmas in Budapest is not the mass consumerism and commercialization that is experienced in most of North America. Instead is remains very much a religious holiday. While I enjoy a little bit of shopping here and there, not having that be the focus of the holidays was a refreshing change while living in Budapest.
To celebrate Christmas, typically the family gathers on the 24th to set up and decorate the tree. Some like to decorate by putting szaloncukor on the tree. Throughout the evening and during Christmas dinner, Jesus will bring presents. That night many people will go to midnight mass. December 25th is typically reserved for visiting with family.
There is no roasted turkey on the Christmas dinner table like in North America. Instead, you’ll commonly find fish soup served, or sometimes turkey that has been stuffed with chestnut. For dessert, you get beigli, a sweet bread stuffed with poppy seed or walnut and then rolled up.
One thing about holidays in Hungary, and probably in most of Europe from what I can see, is that when it’s a holiday, it truly is a holiday. Everything is closed and shut down for days. Forgetting popping into the supermarket to pick up some last minute items for dinner. Nothing will be opened. Having everything closed for the holidays takes some getting used to (especially seeing as many businesses are open in Vancouver on Christmas day), but in many ways it’s nice. You have time to focus on your friends and family. No distractions.
How do you celebrate Christmas where you are? Have you experienced any unique traditions while traveling?