St. Nicholas versus the Old Winterman

Or, Hungarian December holidays

In Hungary, Christmas Eve is very important and is called ‘Szent-Este’ which means the Holy Evening (24th of December). People spend the evening with their family (and strictly only the closest family that day!) and decorate the Christmas Tree. Sometimes only the adults decorate the tree (entirely without the children therearound), so when children come in and see the tree, it’s a great surprise and they are told that angels brought the tree for them!

The main Christmas meal, which is also eaten on Christmas Eve, consists of fish (often fish soup, also called ‘Halászlé’, which is made with carp or other freshwater fish, or, “coated” fried fish), stuffed cabbage (the leaves are stuffed with rice, minced pork, onion, garlic, and other herbs) and a special kind of poppy/walnut  bread/cake called ‘Beigli’ is a popular dessert. The gingerbread is often wrapped in very bright colors and decorated with Christmas figures.
Another very much Hungarian traditional meal is ‘Mákosguba’. This consists equally cut bread pieces put into milk (milk is flavoured with vanilla sugar) until it is soaked through and through, then applying with sugar-sweetened poppyseed onto it, and finally baking the entire creation for some time. This one is an old tradition and is still very much alive and kicking, although its popularity fell a bit.

The Midnight Mass service used to be very popular in Hungary. Most people went to Church after their Christmas meal. These days habits are changing and the numbers fell dramatically, but the Mass is still visited in some areas.

On Christmas Eve children also hope that they will be left some presents under the Christmas Tree. They’re told that the presents are brought by Jesus (even in atheist families, mentioned playfully), he’s often called “Jézuska”, a nickname or cuter version for “Jézus”. Children wait outside the room where the tree is and when they hear bells ringing (or parents calling for them), they can enter and the presents await them under the Christmas tree.

On Christmas Day 1 and 2 people visit their families (25 and 26 December).

St. Nicholas also visits Hungary on the 6th December (some areas might schedule it on the 5th). In Hungary, he is known as ‘Mikulás’. Children leave out shoes or boots on a windowsill or front a door to be filled with goodies! Presents might also be brought by Télapó (Old Winterman, or Santa in other countries), but he is not to confuse with St. Nicholas and his day. Télapó is the wonderful friend of Christmas only.

In Hungarian Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Boldog karácsonyt’ (Happy Christmas) or ‘Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket’ (Pleasant Christmas Holidays).

As an end to all this, I wish you too in advance: Boldog Karácsonyt! 🙂 

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