Hungarian Christmas Traditions
While Budapest is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most beautiful cities at any time of year, there is something truly special about the Hungarian capital during the holiday season. As the weather grows colder and Christmas approaches, the city transforms into a site of lights, trees, joy and celebration.
In particular, much of what makes the holidays in Budapest so unique are the many Hungarian Christmas traditions, which work together to create a truly magical atmosphere. Here, then, are some of the cultural, societal, and culinary traditions that make Christmas in Hungary so very special.
St. Nicholas and the Krampus
While in other parts of the world Santa Claus may arrive to bring presents and joy on Christmas Eve, in Hungary (as well as in some other parts of Europe), Saint Nicholas (or Mikulás) comes to fill deserving children’s stockings with chocolates and other delicious sweets on his feast day, December 6th.
In addition, in Hungary Saint Nicholas does not travel alone. While in American traditions he might be accompanied by Rudolf and the other reindeer pulling his sleigh, here his companion is the sinister Krampus, a horned demon whose purpose is to punish unworthy or naughty children.
Szaloncukor: a truly Hungarian Christmas tradition
When looking at a Christmas tree in Budapest or elsewhere in Hungary, you will likely see many of the classic decorations that can be found worldwide, including ornaments, garland, and an angel atop the tree. In addition to all of these, however, you will also find something that might be unexpected hanging from the tree’s branches: individually-wrapped salon candies (szaloncukor).
These candies, whose history can be traced back to the early 18th century, are chocolate-dipped sweets whose fillings range in flavor from orange to marzipan, and nearly everything in between. And if you happen to be in a Hungarian household during the holiday season and see some of these colorfully-wrapped sweets hanging from the Christmas tree, feel free to go ahead and try one for yourself: that’s why they’re there!
Where to stay in Budapest? If you are planning on making your way to the Hungarian capital this holiday season, make sure to look for lodgings that provide luxury and comfort; in terms of easy-to-reach location and amenities, Fraser Residence Budapest is an ideal choice. If you are looking for serviced apartments in Budapest, book your room with best rate guarantee!
One of Hungary’s most intriguing Christmas practices is the performance of the Bethlemezés. As is implied in the name, this is a sort of nativity play, traditionally performed by boys and young men going from house to house in a village or small town in exchange for pastries, sweets, and sometimes even pálinka. Combining costumes, performance, jokes, and the singing of traditional carols and folk-songs, witnessing a Bethlehemezés is an experience not quickly forgotten.
While not unique to Budapest (or Hungary as a whole), no Hungarian Christmas would be complete without a visit to one of the country’s many Christmas markets. Set up outdoors in main squares in cities throughout the country, Christmas markets offer locals and visitors alike an opportunity to examine the wares of merchants selling a vast array of items that would serve as perfect gifts for friends, family, and loved ones.
And in addition to hosting stands selling jewelry, toys, and other presents, Christmas markets also give visitors an opportunity to warm up during the country’s cold winter months by sampling some of Hungary’s classic Christmas dishes. These include such delicacies as Bejgli (rolled pastry logs with walnut or poppy seed fillings), stuffed cabbage, and, perhaps most important on a chilly evening, mulled wine, a hot, spiced drink that is sure to bring some Christmas cheer to your time in the market.
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