Christmas Traditions in Hungary
Santa Clause, Winter-grandfather, Tel-apo or Mikulas, comes on the 6th of December.
Children should clean and put their shoes outside next to the door or window before they go to sleep. Next day candies and or small toys appear in them in red bags. For children, who don’t behave well, a golden birch placed next to the sweets, a symbol for spanking… but don’t worry, it is just for fun, and not for actual punishment.
On 24th of December, children go to their relatives or to the movies, because little Jesus brings the tree and the presents on that evening to their house. It is customary to hang edible things on the tree, like golden wrapped assorted chocolates and meringues beside the glass balls, candles, real or electrical, and sparklers.
Families usually cook festive dinner for that night. An example would be fresh fish usually with rice or potatoes and home made pastries as dessert. After dinner, the tree would be viewed by the children for the first time. Christmas songs are sung and then the gifts under the tree are shared.
Older children attend the midnight mass with their parents. During communism, children had to hide at the back of the church. Teachers could have lost their jobs for attending the mass. Later, in mid 1970’s, most of the Communist Party leaders of the town attended it too. Next day the children attack the edible part of the tree. Festive food is enjoyed on the second and third day too.
People from Transylvania serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve, and next day for lunch. Most likely the reason for that custom is that stuffed cabbage is the best on the second and third day after it was cooked. Moms can prepare the food a day earlier, leaving more time for decorating and organizing. On the 25th of December, the whole family attends church after which they gather to eat stuffed cabbage for lunch.