Many Hollywood movies show families sitting in front of a Christmas tree. Suddenly they hear someone knocking on the door, and there he is, Santa Claus. He has a bag full of presents and Christmas is here. This normally happens on December 24th but in some places on December 25th. In other places, Santa Claus comes on his sleigh during the night, making sure that all presents are in place by the time everybody wakes up on December 25th. What’s going on in Hungary? It is actually very different!
Hungary has some similarities with the Netherlands because their Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) arrives with presents on December 5/6. In Hungary, all kids wash their shoes on December 5th, knowing that Santa Claus will arrive during the night with sweets and other nice things during the night (if the shoes are nice and clean). In other words, Santa Claus comes on December 6th in Hungary. For many people in the Netherlands, the big Christmas present thing ends on December 6th, but that isn’t so in Hungary.
Jesus brings the presents on December 24.
There are different traditions, but many add to the magic the fact that the angels bring the Christmas tree to the different houses. Then you have the interesting thing. If you visit Budapest on December 24 and walk up and down the streets between 12.00 and 15.00, you will see lots of parents and/or grandparents out walking with kids. Why is that? They need to leave the house around this time in order for Jesus to come to the houses with all the presents.
As the kids return, the tree is decorated, and hopefully, there are lots of presents beneath it.
What does it mean that Jesus brings the presents?
First of all, it isn’t a tradition among kids to tell their parents and family what they want to get from the different persons in their surroundings. They only prepare a list that they tell their parents about, who later tell Jesus about all those wishes. Under the Christmas tree, you will seldom see stickers saying “To Tom”, and “From Mum&Dad.” The reason is simple, Jesus brought the presents, so it would be “wrong” to add such name stickers to the presents.
As the children get older, they understand what is really going on, but most Hungarians love this tradition, and they speak with glimpses in their eyes about the time when they believed Jesus was the one actually bringing the presents.
That was a little article about how the Hungarians celebrate Christmas and what you can expect if you come to Budapest around Christmas. You can read more about Christmas in Budapest and about the popular Christmas markets in Budapest here.