The Hungarian Santa Claus comes in two forms: Szent Mikulas, the St. Nick figure, and Baby Jesus. Hungarian Christmas traditions that focus on gift-giving differ from ours, but the sentiment is much the same. The biggest difference lies in the fact that St. Nick does not come on Christmas Eve but visits on a day designated specifically for him, while Baby Jesus visits households on Christmas Eve to distribute gifts.
Mikulas, the Hungarian Santa Claus, is Hungary's version of St. Nicholas. On the Eve of St. Nicholas, December 5, children leave their newly polished shoes on the windowsill. Mikulas visits Hungary's children and fills their boots with items that indicate how good the child has been. Good children get sweets or chocolate and small gifts, while traditionally, bad children got onions, switches, or other undesirable items. However, the shoes are often filled with both desirable and undesirable gifts because Hungarians believe that no child is all good or all bad. One typical treat is a chocolate Santa made cheerful with a colorful foil wrapping. Children may also get the traditional Hungarian candy szaloncukor.
Sometimes Szent Mikulas is accompanied by a devil figure, called Krampusz. He acts as a counterpoint to Mikulas' goodness. This custom is similar to the Czech Santa Claus tradition: St. Nicholas arrives to distribute gifts with the help of an angel and a devil in the Czech Republic. On St. Nicholas Day, Mikulas visits children in schools and daycare centers. He also makes sure to make an appearance at the Budapest Christmas market!
Mikulas lives in Nagykarácsony, a small village whose name means "Great Christmas," though when the tradition first began it was thought he came down from heaven on December 5 to reward good children for their behavior. Hungarian children can write to Mikulas in hopes of getting their holiday wishes granted. Santa's workshop is also located here and can be visited by families who want to visit Santa on his own territory, where they are entertained by various performances and activities especially for children.
Baby Jesus and Old Man Winter
On Christmas Eve, it is not Mikulas who visits children, but Baby Jesus (Jézuska or Kis Jézus) or angels, who decorate the Christmas tree and magically leave gifts for the children of the family. The gifts are usually larger or more expensive gifts than are given by Mikulas.
Télapó, or the Hungarian version of Old Man Winter, is another character who may appear during the winter holidays to personify the qualities of winter. Télapó brought presents on New Year's Eve during communist times, standing in for the Russian Ded Moroz.