Saturday, January 3, 2015

Christmas in Hungary - Traditions

In Hungary, Christmas is a special holiday filled with traditions.  Things begin in early December with the start of Advent.  Near Vörösmarty Square and the Basilika, Christmas markets fill the open spaces with ornaments, crafts, sweets, and mulled wine. At the Basilika, there is a light show on the front of the church. It's actually really cool. The lights are lined up exactly with the columns and other architectural features and the entire program is set to music. Here are a few photos.

There are a variety of traditions about gifts and those who bring them in Hungary. On December 6, Mikulás (St. Nicholas) visits children and brings candies and small presents to their shoes and boots. On Christmas eve, there are few possible gift givers depending on the family. For some, Télapó (very similar to Santa) brings gifts to children.  For others, the presents are brought by the three wise men or even by the baby Jesus.  No matter who brings the gifts, the Hungarian tradition is that they appear during the evening meal on December 24. Often the gifts appear around the same time that an adult in the family leaves the table to use the restroom.

For everyone in Hungary, Christmas is a national holiday. On December 24, 25, and 26, hardly anything is open or in business. The public transportation runs on a very limited schedule and all stores are closed.  Dan and I had to buy all of our groceries on December 22 and 23 to make sure we had enough of everything we needed. We even saw a few businesses which were closed through the end of the year. In the afternoon of December 24, Dan and I went for a walk and the streets were empty. Everyone was at home with their families.

We don't know much about the history of Christmas trees in Hungary but we saw many people buying them on the street. Near our apartment, we saw a few vendors selling Christmas trees in the few days before Christmas. In the United States, many people put up their trees right after Thanksgiving. Hungarians seem to get a tree only a day or two before Christmas. Most of the trees we saw were small and cute, maybe 2-3 feet high.  I would think that this is so people can easily carry them to their homes. We decided not to get a Christmas tree. Instead we purchased a pineapple as our tree which we could eat later. We did this thinking of one of our favorite shows to watch together, Psych.

Around the city, we have seen several nativity scenes and Advent wreaths. Nativity scenes are just called Betlehem in Hungarian.  Of course we saw these near the churches but also in public places. Here is a picture of the nativity scene and Advent wreath in front of Parliament.

As a married couple, our first Christmas was here in Budapest. We couldn't have asked for anything better. I hope that maybe some of the Hungarian traditions, music, and food can be a part of our future Christmas celebrations.

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