Christmas in Hungary


boldog karacsonyi.jpg


  There are a great many traditions around the time of the
Christmas and New Year's holidays in Hungary.
Some of these traditions trace their origins to the pre-Christian era,
that is, before 1000 A.D.  But all these traditions usually have a
religious base or a folk custom base, and are often related to events
expected in the near future, or to the expected harvest of the
following year. In the last several decades, most of these folk
traditions have disappeared from every day life, although some
traces may remain in the smaller villages. However, in the recent past,
several artistic, cultural, and folk groups have revived interest
in preserving these traditions, which they promulgate by means of
performances, books, and videos.

  December 2 marks the start of Advent,
the period when Christian peoples await Christmas,
that is, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The season begins on the first Sunday after Nov. 30,
the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, and lasts for 28 days.

advent-wreath.jpg    In Hungary,people display
"Advent wreaths,"
and they can be seen everywhere:
stores, schools, offices, and in almost
every home.  People make their own wreaths,
or purchase them.  They usually come with 4 candles,
and every Sunday until Christmas, people light one additional candle.  
The dates for 2003 are: November 30, December 7, December 14, and December 21.

  Hungarian children and children of Hungarian descent often receive
"Advent calendars," too.  Some calendars have a tiny "door"
for each day in Advent.  Each "door "is opened, one day at a time,
and behind it is the date, with also perhaps a holy picture. Other Advent
calendar styles might feature a little sack for each day in Advent, and in which
a child might  find a piece of candy or perhaps a small gift.

  Gerhard Lang printed the first Advent calendar
in Maulbronn, Germany, in 1908.
Later calendars had doors that opened for each day.  
Here is a picture of an English Advent Calendar,
to give you and idea of what they look like. 

  Mikulás is also the "name day" on the Christian calendar for "Miklós" or Nicholas.

And, in Hungary, Santa doesn't have anything to do with Christmas.
He comes on December 6th, and his day is called "Mikulás Nap,"  or, (St.) Nicholas Day.

Mikulas - Lutheran-2-sm.jpg

Above, children from
the West Side Hungarian
Evangelical Lutheran Church
in Cleveland, OH, meet with "Mikulás bácsi."
Photo: Thomas Rátoni-Nagy



On this day, Santa, or  Mikulás bácsi  ("Uncle Mikulás"),   makes his rounds among the shops, schools and parades, just like he does in other countries. Children get candy and chocolate in red wrappings. An older  traditionhad Mikulás bácsi leaving candy or other small goodies in children's shoes or boots, which the children have set out overnight, usually by a window. If they have been "good," they might get candies, tangerines, or chocolates, and sometimes small presents, toys, or books. (This custom may sound similar, but children in Hungary do not hang stockings by the chimney for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve.)  

  Some children leave their candy on the window sill all day,
to show how good they have been.
However, if the children had been bad, or at least
very naughty during the year, instead of a present,
they would find a lump of coal, or a potato,
or a bunch of twigs (like a "switch"),
tied together in their shoe, 
or, they would be warned that the

  Krampusz , krampusz

a kind of mean goblin, often in the shape of a
small boy, would come after them and beat them with a stick !

  Mikulás nap is celebrated in schools as well as workplaces,
where the employees sometimes bring their children for a visit
by Mikulás bácsi, who talks to  each individual child,
and who may even sit in his lap.


  Another folk tradition is "Luca Nap" or "Luca (Lucia) Day."
Many superstitions and customs are related to the 13th of December,
for one, because of the number 13, and also according to some,
it is the traditional night for evil spirits - since it is the longest night of the year.

  In one folk tradition, men started carving a "Luca stool,"
or a small wooden stool with three legs.  A man spread out his work
on his stool so that it would not be finished until December 24,
when he would bring it with him to midnight church services.
(There is also a saying in Hungarian:
"You are preparing it as slowly as Luca stool!")

  In church, the man could then step up on his stool
and see over the heads of the congregation.
Thus, he would be able to recognize witches in the church, along with the believers.
But as soon as he recognized the witches, he had to take his stool
and run home as quickly as he could, since the witches were now on his trail.
This is why a man with such a stool might also take along
a bag of poppy seeds or millet with him to church.
After he had spread them in the streets,
the witches would have to stop and collect them before running to catch him.
In this way, the man could slip away and get home before the witches caught up with him.

  Illustration below by a 10 year old girl in Hungary about Luca Nap!


Luca Day Folk Customs, Mária Szücs, age 10
Oil pastel on paper ;  Stone Soup Museum Collection
original link

  For girls, many customs related to Luca Nap can foretell something
about their future husband
. One such custom is still popular.
A girl takes 12 slips of paper. On 11 of the slips, she writes
11 different boys' names, one per slip, and one slip is left empty.
The girl then rolls up all the slips and places them in a box.
Then, every evening until the 24th, she will take out one slip of paper
and burn it - but she must not unroll it and look at the name beforehand!
She may look only at the last one - they one she unrolled on the eve of the 24th
- and it will contain the name of her future husband.
If she ends up with the empty slip, this means she won't ever get married.

  Then there are some Luca Day customs for everyone
- and many involve weather, wealth and money.

  In one such tradition, every day between December 13 and 24,
people take notes about the weather.

This will show them what the weather will be like in the next 12 months.
This custom probably originated and was popular in the villages,
where the farmer's livelihood depended upon the weather.

  Two additional customs for Luca Nap or December 13 are related to money.
If you want to be rich in the coming year, don't spend even one penny on the 13th!
But if someone gives you money on that day, it means luck for you.

  Finally, people may also sow wheat into a cup or onto
a plate on Luca Nap.
 If your wheat grows in thick and high
by December 24th, it means that you will be prosperous in the coming year.
If not, you will be poor!


  Another Hungarian folk custom is "wafer carrying" or "osztyahordás,".
During the Christmas fast-days or sometimes even before, the cantor-teacher
of the local school would send some wafers to the families. These became
a very important part of the Christmas dinner, and were usually eaten
with honey or garlic.


  In the past, one of the largest Christmas traditions was the
"Bethlehem play," or "Betlehemezés."
This custom, with both folk as well as religious aspects, has a great
written literature as well. The first written document about the
"Betlehemes" groups dates from the 1600s.  

  In the old tradition, a week or a few days before Christmas, singers of carols
appeared in the streets to announce the coming of the festival.  Then groups of boys
made the rounds from house to house, performing the nativity play, carrying
the Christmas manger-crib with them, along with a model of the Holy Family.
The play centered on the appearance of the shepherds as well as on
the three Kings from the Orient, who had brought presents to baby Jesus
at the time of his birth in Nazareth.  The performance included songs and poems,
and the participants were usually in costume.  

  Nowadays, such nativity plays are presented only in churches or schools,
but they are still very popular.  Some folk and non-profit groups are
dedicated to preserving the atmosphere and custom of this tradition.

[A group of boys performing in a "Betlehemes" play]


  A similar custom is the "Visiting of the Shepherds."
Participants usually visit houses on Christmas Eve, up until midnight. They
wear their coats turned out, put satchels on their shoulders, and carry shepherds'
crooks as well  The smallest shepherd usually has the job of carrying the manger.
The participants sing Christmas carols for the residents and hope to receive
some sort of gifts from the owner of the house.


  As for holiday decorations, people in Hungary
do not decorate the outside of their homes,
nor do they decorate stores and streets in quite the
same way as in North America.  Christmas lights
and decorations are reserved more for inside the home.


chr-tree.gif   The Christmas tree is bought a day
to a week (or two in some extreme cases)
before Christmas eve and stored outside in the cold
- all wrapped up, so it will last longer. In some parts
of the country people used to hang their trees
out of apartment windows, tall buildings, or put them
on balconies if they did not have a yard or garden.

  In Hungary on December 24th (Christmas Eve), everything closes
around noon, or by 4 PM at the latest. All public transportation
stops as well.  People get home by that time, and start putting
up the tree.  (It's rarely done before the 24th - You will not
see decorated Christmas trees in Hungary before
December 24, except perhaps in stores for
advertising purposes!)  So, the afternoon
and early evening of Christmas eve
is occupied by decorating
the tree, together, within
the family.

  Traditional Hungarian tree lights always included candles
and sparklers, although many families have abandoned
this custom due to fire hazard concerns.


  According to Hungarian custom,
Christmas tree decorations always include very special
holiday candies, wrapped in bright gold, red, or other
colored foil and tied with bows, called
These are chocolate on the outside, with marzipan,
raspberry, orange  or other flavored jellies inside.


  Some time before Christmas, Hungarian children have already written their  
letters to baby Jesus, or "Jézuska,"
much in the same way American
children might write letters to Santa Claus.  They tell baby Jesus what presents they
want for Christmas.  Then they leave their letters, on a windowsill for example, to be
picked up by angel messengers (otherwise known as parents and grandparents!),
during the night, while the children are sleeping, and to be "delivered" to baby Jesus!
(Some Hungarian-American children in North America  have developed
a clever twist on this custom - they ask "Jézuska" to bring the usual presents
on Christmas Eve, and then  the "American Santa" to deliver additonal
presents for Christmas day!)



  angelIn families that follow the
Christian tradition, it is not
Santa Claus and his
reindeer who bring the Christmas
presents and drop them off
through the chimney overnight,
so that children wake up
to find them Christmas morning.
Rather, it is Baby Jesus - Jézuska -  
and the angels who bring
not only the tree but also
gifts for good boys and girls. Usually,
on December 24th, Christmas eve,
children are banished  for several
 hours from the room in which the tree will be put up, and the gifts
put under it.  (If children try to peek, they are warned that they will
frighten away Baby Jesus and the angels, who will  then fly off
quickly, and take all the intended gifts away with them !!!)



  Once the tree and gifts are ready, parents ring a little bell
to announce that Baby Jesus - Jézuska - and the angels
have come!   Children run in excitedly and receive their
gifts - and are told, for example, that each gift is from
Mommy's Jesus (Anyuka Jézuskája), or Daddy's  Jesus
(Apuka Jézuskája), Grandmother's  Jesus
(Nagyanyó Jézuskája), and so on!  

 Other adult family members have already
placed their gifts for each other under the tree.
So, after the tree is lit, and the presents are opened,
families celebrate the rest of the evening  of the 24th together.
mostly within the close family, but Christmas being a 3 day holiday,
on the 25th, & 26th, larger families and close friends travel and
visit each other.  (The two days following Christmas eve are
also national holidays in Hungary.)

Christmas gift old postcard

  People usually spend the first of the two following days (Dec. 25th)
with their more immediate families, having a big festive meal that starts
around 2 pm.  The following day (Dec. 26.) is the same, but people
usually get together with extended family members and may also
attend Church on either or both days.

Karacsony - Jezus.gif


Christmas cuisine in Hungary.

  Traditional Christmas eve dinner usually called for
some sort of fish, dating from the days when Christians abstained
from eating meat on Fridays, as well as the eve of certain other holy days,
Christmas included. Hungarian Christians often attend midnight mass.

  A typical traditional meal for Christmas Eve
(December 24th) for a village family might include the
following: poppyseed biscuit with honey and milk ( mákosguba).
After midnight Mass, families might come home to enjoy jellied pig's feet
 but traditionally no meat was eaten on the night of the 24th.
A Christmas menu for city dwellers or a more modern menu might
include the following: for the evening of Christmas Eve,
December 24 - fish soup (halászlé), fried fish (rántott hal) ,
poppyseed biscuits and yeast raised cakes with poppyseeds.
Then dinner on Christmas Day, December 25th, is usually taken in
early or mid-afternoon, and the menu might include: "puszta cocktail"
[= 1/5 to1/4 part Zwack apricot brandy/barackpálinka added to a dry Martini,
shaken, with ice], stuffed turkey with chestnuts, and beigli [slices of nut or
poppyseed rolls].  Another menu might be composed of apricot brandy
from Kecskemét (kecskeméti barackpálinka)
, carp fish soup, stuffed turkey
with ham and cheese, beigli made with chestnuts and/or Gerbeaud pastry
slices, and Rizling wine from Balatonfüred and Szamoródni wine from Tokaj.


  There are after-Christmas customs and traditions in Hungary
as well.  One old folk custom is the "regölés" or "sending of good wishes"
and this takes place from January 26th through January 1st.
The Regösök or "well-wishers" would visit families in the villages from
December 26th (the Name Day of King St. Stephen) until January 21st.
The visitors sang songs and expressed good wishes for the family members.


  Another custom was the "blessing of the wine," or "borszentelés,"
which usually took place on the Name Day of St. John (Szent János napja),
December 27th. On this day, families took their wine to church to be
blessed by the priest, after which magical powers were attributed
to the wine.  For example, it was said to now have the
power to cure sick people and sick animals.  The families
put their blessed wine into barrels to keep it from going bad.

Check out this link [in Hungarian] about St. John' s Day and wine blessing.


  Another custom on the 27th of December is the
"Feast of the Holy Innocents" or
"aprószentek ünnepe"
 [In the New Testament,
when the King learned of Jesus' birth,
he sent his soldiers to kill the first-born son of all the Jewish families,
but Jesus with Mary and Joseph had been forewarned
and escaped into Egypt before the slaughter.}
In Hungary on this day, young men would go
from house to house where any young girls
lived and swish them with birches, wishing them and the rest of the
family health and fruitfulness and good wishes for the coming year.


  Finally, there is New Year's Eve, December 31.
In Hungary, this is celebrated in the company of family and good friends
- no one should be alone on the last night of the year,
for how one spends the last night is
how one will supposedly spend the coming year as well.
On this day and evening people sometimes engage in
games such as card games in order to foretell the future.

  Groups of people gather in homes or go out for a night on the town
to wait until midnight, when they sing the National Anthem and toast
with champagne. In bigger towns and cities, people
go out into the streets where they shout and use various noisemakers,
in order to ring in the new year.         

BUEK.jpg     HAPPY NEW YEAR IN 2012!

  The first kiss that one receives in the new year is also very important!
Then, after midnight, phone lines are jammed with people
who are calling their far-away friends and relatives.


  Finally, there is New Year's Day, January 1st.
People usually stay up until dawn from the night before,
eating, drinking, dancing, playing board games or watching TV at home.

  New Year's Eve menu: Hungarians are careful what they eat on January 1st!
One should not eat any fish - or chicken, for fish will swim away with your luck,
but chicken scratches it back.  If you want to be rich, wealthy, and lucky during
the coming year, you must eat some form of lentils (like in soup or salad) on
New Year's Day - along with some form of pork.  If you can manage to get the tail
for your portion of pork, this means you will have a great deal of personal luck!
But, before you start to eat your New Year's day meal, you must place the green wheat
sown before Christmas, a prayer book, and also your purse on the table,
so that your new year will be blessed by God!

boldog_uj_evet_jan1-2.jpgBoldogUjEvet-3-2012.jpgboldog uj-2.jpg

holly line

Would you like to read additional accounts
Hungarian Christmas traditions. . .

or. . .

would you like to view some Christmas
Hungarian fine art

Click on the links below.

Some of the links include special Hungarian Christmas
recipes you can make at home yourself.  Enjoy -- and


a Clevelandi Magyar Történelmi Társulat és Múzeum :  
-  Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year from
the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Society and Museum.

Collected Remembrances of Hungarian Christmas traditions
from several sources, along with a recipe for
Poppy Seed Moon Cake (Mákosbeigli) .

Written by a 10 year old girl

bulblineChristmas in Hungary  
- with further links and folk traditions

bulblineAnother "Christmas in Hungary"
- with many links



bulbline HAPPY NEW YEAR!
(Recipe: "Korhelyleves" or Sauerkraut Soup, great for curing a post-New Year's Eve party hangover)

(Recipes: Hungarian Holiday Pastry, Walnut Filling & Poppy seed Filling)
A nut or poppy seed roll, known in Hungarian as "Beigli"
- some Slavic peoples call it "Potica."

bulblineClick here to read about fond memories
of June Meyer's Authentic

and  then. . .
bulblineClick here, and then scroll down if you want to get to the
Christmas cookie recipes themselves.

bulblineHungarian CHRISTMAS BREAD recipe

bulblineRecipe for "KÖRÖZÖTT _

bulblineRecipe for drop-in holiday (or any time!) guests  ---

[Scroll  down on linked page - English version follows Hungarian}

bulblineThree special recipes for
your holiday buffet table - or for anytime!

* Lebbencs leves * - "Lebbencs" Soup
* Rakott Káposzta  * - Layered Sauerkraut Casserole
* Rakott Puliszka * - Layered Cornmeal Casserole

bulblineRecipes for "MÉZESKALÁCS,"
 or "HUNGARIAN PARLOR CANDY," for Christmas

bulblineA recipe for Hungarian CHRISTMAS WINE SOUP: "Borleves"
A superb Christmas eve dinner tradition,
this elegant soup is nicely tart, light and lightly spiced,
just the perfect amount of heady and festive
soup to lead off a Christmas dinner.
Serve hot to 4 people as a first course--
and not just at Christmas.
It's a marvelous start to any special meal.


A nice collection of words and music to many
Hungarian Christmas songs, in Hungarian.

bulbline2 Hungarian Christmas poems, by Ady Endre
You Tube recitation, performed by Gyula Szabó, of a Christmas poem (in Hungarian)
"Karácsony, ma tán a béke. . . " [another Ady poem]

("Hungarian Folk Christmas Traditions" - in Hungarian)

(Collection of Hungarian Christmas sites - in Hungarian)

bulblineTons of additional links - In Hungarian / magyarul

holly line


Master of Aranyosmaróti : "The Adoration of the Magi" circa 1460nativity

These images are large and may take a little time to load up,
but they are worth it.  The first few are religious altar paintings,
or, altarpieces, formerly in churches and relocated to museums,
or, still in  the original churches in Hungary, Slovakia and
Transylvania (formerly Upper Hungary and Erdély respectively.)


"The Birth of Jesus"
circa 1450, tempera on wood,
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

"Two Painted Wings of an Altarpiece "
circa 1490, tempera on wood,
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

"The Birth of Jesus and the Death of Mary"
circa 1490, tempera on pine wood,
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

"The Birth of Jesus"
circa 1490, tempera on wood,
Parish Church, Szepesváralja, Hungary

circa 1460, tempera on wood,
Slovak National Gallery, Bratislava
(formerly Pozsony, Upper Hungary)

Altarpiece of Nativity
1490-1500, wood, St. Egidius Church,
Bártfa, Slovakia (formerly part of Upper Hungary)

Above :  Altarpiece of the Nativity,

"Adoration of the Magi" (detail)
1423, Fresco [wall painting], Protestant Church, Szentsimon

"Birth of Christ"
1894-95, Tapestry by Gobelin technique,
Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest


Information in the sections on
Hungarian Christmas folk customs
was partially taken from a lecture-presentation
by Judit Gerencsér,
Fulbright Scholar from Hungary,
given at the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Museum,
December 7th, 2003


Please note:  volunteers are needed !
-- Friends and Patrons of the Museum --
your help is requested !

horselogo-leg.jpgHHM address

Please contact:
Hungarian Heritage Society
P. O. Box 24134
Cleveland, Ohio 44124
(216)  289-9400
click here to e-mail us  



Clicking on the categories below will link you
to the rest of our
Hungarian Heritage Museum
web pages :

kiscimer w leavesHungarian Heritage Museum INDEX (HOME PAGE)

Cleveland & NE Ohio


redballABOUT THE MUSEUM -General Information

HHS horse logo  About the Cleveland
Hungarian Heritage Society,
Clevelandi Magyar Történelmi Társulat

 A Tour of the Museum
- Permanent Collections
& Exhibitions





 Memorial Pages:  Margaret Dosa,   [Others to follow]

GREAT LINKS to other Hungarian Sites!

E-mail - webmaster !

Page last updated December 21, 2011

These and all linked pages are best viewed using NETSCAPE NAVIGATOR 4.7 or higher.
Copyright © 2011 Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Museum