In Hungary, Christmas Eve is very important and it is called “Szent-este”, which means “Holy Afternoon”.
People spend the afternoon with their family and decorate the Christmas tree. Sometimes only the adults decorate the tree (without the children there), so when the children enter and see the tree, it is a great surprise and they are told that the angels brought the tree to them.
The main Christmas meal, which is also eaten on Christmas Eve, consists of fish (often fish soup called ‘Halászlé’ which is made with carp or another freshwater fish), stuffed cabbage (the leaves are stuffed with rice, chopped pork, onion, etc.) garlic and other herbs) and a special type of bread / poppy cake called “Beigli” is a popular dessert. Gingerbread is also traditionally eaten at Christmas in Hungary. The gingerbread is often wrapped in very bright colors and decorated with Christmas figures.
Midnight mass service is very popular in Hungary. Most people go to church after their Christmas meal.
On Christmas Eve, the children also expect some gifts to remain under the Christmas tree. They are told that the gifts are brought by Jesus, often called “Jézuska”, a nickname or a more beautiful version for “Jézus”. The children wait outside the room where the tree is and when they hear the bells, they can enter and the gifts are waiting for them under the Christmas tree.
On Christmas day, people visit their families.
St. Nicholas also visits Hungary on December 6. In Hungary it is known as ‘Mikulás’. Children leave their shoes or boots on the windowsill to fill them with sweets! Gifts can also be brought by Télapó (Old Man Winter).
In Hungarian, Happy / Merry Christmas is ‘Boldog karácsonyt’ (Merry Christmas) or ‘Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket’ (nice Christmas holidays).