Christmas is a sacred occasion for the people of Hungary. The season starts with the Advent and usually, the celebrations go on till the 27th of December. Christmas activities include hanging of wreaths, lighting candles and baking cookies. During Christmas time, 'St. Nicholas Day' and 'Luca Day' are also celebrated with great zest and enthusiasm. Many customs and traditions associated with Christmas stem from traditional folklore and are followed religiously in the country. The 'Bethlehem play', is one of the most important traditions, wherein children reenact the 'nativity scene' for the locals in the village. On Christmas Eve, a large feast is prepared and served. Family members gather around Christmas trees and open their presents before they leave for 'Midnight Mass' at church. The Hungarian Santa Claus is known as 'Mikulás' and it is believed, that he visits schools for the downtrodden during Christmas. If this has already captured your attention and you are aching to know more, then scroll down for more information on Hungarian Christmas celebrations, customs and traditions.
Customs, Traditions & Celebrations
The Christmas season begins on the day of Advent in Hungary. Although, most Christmas traditions have dimmed over the years, a few remote villages and parts of the city still follow age-old traditions and customs.
Christmas Season In Hungary
During the period of the Advent, one can observe Advent wreaths hung in places like schools, offices, shops and homes. The period of the Advent is used as a time for Christmas preparations. As part of the Christmas decorations, numerous candles ornamented with red and gold ribbons are used to create the Christmas ambience in households across Hungary. Red and gold are considered to be propitious and are used frequently while decorating. A few days before Christmas Eve, families get together and start baking cookies and biscuits for the Christmas banquet on the day of Christmas.
One of the unique traditions of Hungary includes the reenacting of the scenes at Bethlehem, just before the birth of baby Christ. Boys dressed in costumes, go from one house to another with models of the 'Holy family' and perform a small play for onlookers. This is usually complete with folk music, singing, dancing and choreographed performances that are very popular around this time of the year in Hungary.
'Mikulás' or the Hungarian Santa Claus is believed to visit children on the 6th of December, which also happens to be 'St. Nicholas day'. As per Hungarian traditions, children leave their boots on windowsills, expecting the boots to be filled with treats when they wake up the next morning. The boots are filled with chocolates, tangerines, apples, dates, candies, walnuts and small figurines of Mikulás. Some children also receive books and toys as well. Bad children would get switches with devil figurines.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated in schools, colleges and hospitals around the country. Children rush to sit on his lap and sing songs to him. They are summoned one by one by Mikulás while he praises each one of them, for their good deeds and reminds them of their bad deeds. Singing songs together, narrating stories and handing out presents are few of the activities that St. Nicholas and the children engage themselves with.
It is customary for the people in Hungary to never decorate a Christmas tree before Christmas. Families usually decorate the Christmas trees on the day of Christmas. Some people follow the tradition of secretly decorating the trees and tricking the children into believing that angels had brought them home. The presents are then placed under the tree.
Like most countries, Christmas Eve is the most important day and all major Christmas celebrations are held on this day. The evening on Christmas Eve is called the 'Holy Evening' or 'Szenteste'. On this day, families spend time together and gather around the Christmas tree to sing Christmas carols. The adults secretly decorate the Christmas tree to surprise the children. A huge feast is prepared and served to the family on this day. Traditional dishes include the 'Beigli', which is a fish soup. After the Christmas meal, the family members exchange gifts and later, the children open their presents. Hungarian families then head out to church to attend the 'Midnight Mass'.
'Luca Day' is celebrated on the 13th of December. According to Hungarian traditions, men carve a wooden stool known as the 'Luca stool'. This work will not be completed deliberately until the 24th of December and is brought to the church for the Midnight Mass. The men then stand on the stool and scan through the church crowd to spot the witches. After identifying the witches, they take their stools and rush to their houses quickly, dropping a bag of poppy seeds on the ground. It is believed that the men who identified the witches were likely to be torn to shreds by these evil beings if they did not reach their homes on time. It is said that these men, had to throw their stools into the fire and if they did, the witches wouldn't harm them. Dropping a bag of poppy seeds on the way is just another technique to distract and slow down the witches from arriving at the households sooner.
Christmas traditions and customs are very special for the people of Hungary. Unusual customs for Luca Day are strangely followed in many parts of Hungary even today. Mikulás, the Hungarian Santa visits children on St. Nicholas Day. The Bethlehem play is performed by children during Christmas and is one of Hungary's most important Christmas traditions.
Christmas in Hungary is celebrated on the 25th of December every year. Read on to know more about the customs, traditions and celebrations followed in Hungary during Christmas.