In Hungary Christmas Eve is a very important Holiday, and called ‘Holy Evening’. People spend the evening with their family and decorate the Christmas Tree. Sometimes only the adults decorate the tree (without the children there), 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!
During Advent – four weeks before Christmas – people burn candles on the Advent wreath, which can be often found on doors too. People – eventhe not religious ones – go to church for the traditional Midnight Mass on 24th December. On Holy Night Hungarians listen to holiday songs such as “Silent Night” at home.
The traditional Hungarian Christmas meal, which is also eaten on Christmas eve, is fisermen’s soup, stuffed cabbage, and a special kind of poppy bread/cake called ‘Beigli’ is a popular dessert. Gingerbread is also a traditionally eaten at Christmas in Hungary. The gingerbread is often wrapped in very bright colors and decorated with Christmas figures, sometimes hanged on the Christmas Tree.
In Hungary the Christmas and gift-giving season starts relatively early compared to other cultures, with the Santa-like figure, or Hungarian version of Saint Nicholas, called here ‘Mikulas’. Santa Claus traditionally visiting the homes of Hungarian children on the night of 5th December, so on 6th December -the actual feast day of Saint Nicholas – in the morning kids find their presents in their shoes, shined and placed into the window before they go to bed on the previous evening. There is no’ Mrs. Mikulas’ in Hungary. Mikulas often comes with an assistant: a “Krampusz”, a little Devil, who punishes bad children.
Also before Christmas , on 13rd December comes the so called ‘Luca Day’. On this day girls start to make a chair from nature wood, which has to be ready for the Holy Evening. People say, when they steps on the chair in the church during the Midnight Mass, they will see their future husband. According another version, one can see the witches in the community. The Day of Luca is also the day for love predicitions. In the evening girls used to cast lead, and the shape of the lead tells the occupation of their future loved one. This customs are often practicized even today.
Budapest itself wears celebrational illumination from the end of November up to the New Year. The streets and avenues are lighted with Christmas decorations,numerous Christmas Fairs are held, – at Saint Stephen Basilica and at Vörösmarty square are the most famous ones -, in the air one can feel the scent of hot wine, cinnamon, chimney cake and gingerbread. The Hungarian Operahouse traditionally plays the Nutcracker, and the tramline 2 alongside the Pest shore of the river Danube operates Christmas trams, illuminated with miriads of lightbulbs. In front of the Hungarian Parliament stands in every year the Christmas Tree of the Hungarian Nation.