Christmas in Hungary, celebrated on December 25, is sometimes preceded by the observance of Advent. Budapest's Christmas Market is already in full swing during the beginning of December, so if you're in Hungary's capital city during this time of year, the Christmas market is an excellent place to find traditional gifts and sample seasonal Hungarian foods.
Giving of Gifts in Hungary
Hungarian children receive gifts twice during the Christmas season.
The first opportunity for gift-giving is on December 6, the Day of St. Nicholas ( Mikulas), when children receive small presents like candy or small toys in shoes that have been placed on the windowsill the night before. As a reminder to be good, some children will receive switches or branches from trees in their shoes alongside the other small gifts.
Mikulas sometimes appears in the flesh to groups of children. Mikulas may wear the more traditional bishop's clothing and be accompanied by helpers representing good and mischief (or sometimes only mischief), but Mikulas serves a similar purpose as the Western Santa Claus in that he keeps track of the good and bad deeds of children all over the world.
The second opportunity for gift giving comes on Christmas Eve. 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 given permission by their parents.
This permission is sometimes marked by the ringing of a bell. Children are told that angels or Baby Jesus brought the tree and the gifts for them.
The Christmas tree can be decorated in a variety of ways, with glass ornaments, ornaments embroidered with traditional designs, or other decorations.
The Christmas Meal in Hungary
The Hungarian Christmas meal features typical dishes that many families serve, just as generations did before them.
A fish dish, such as fish soup, may be the main component of the meal, but chicken or pork may also serve as the entree.
The main dish is accompanied by side dishes such as stuffed cabbage. Poppy seed rolls and other pastries finish the meal. Hungarians' favorite candy, the szaloncukor, which also decorates the Christmas tree, is in plentiful supply. Hungarian wine and spirits are also present at the holiday table.
Extended Holiday Celebration
Christmas Eve marks the first real day of Christmas in Hungary, when the tree is put up and decorated. The next two days are spent with family and relatives and involve traditional foods cooked especially for the holiday.
Christmas Gifts from Hungary
If you're looking for Christmas gifts from Hungary, consider wine or spirits, dolls dressed in Hungarian folk costumes, embroidered linens, or even paprika, the Hungarian national spice. Besides the Christmas market, the Great Market Hall is an excellent source for gifts for friends and family.