Christmas in Hungary by Linda Sarkadi, age 10
Sija! - "Hello" - my name is Linda. I want to wish you Yokararácsony - "Merry Christmas!"
Hungarian people celebrate Christmas twice! The first time is December 6th - St. Nicholas (Mikolás) Day. On this day, we have good things to eat and get gifts from Mikolás, who carries a big sack full of presents. He dresses in red, wears a bishop's hat and has a staff. With him, he keeps a book in which the year's good and bad deeds of boys and girls are recorded. Mikolás has two helpers: one is the good angel who helps give out the presents; the other is the bad devil - Krampusz - he makes mischief.
Our second Christmas is December 25th. On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, all the children leave the house to visit or go for a walk with friends and relatives. Meanwhile, their parents, "with the help of angels," hurriedly put up the Christmas tree. It is decorated with colorful ornaments and very special holiday candies, wrapped in bright gold and red foil and tied with bows, called Szaaloncukor. These are chocolate on the outside with marzipan, raspberry or orange jelly inside.
When the children return home, they aren't allowed to come into the living room until a bell is rung. Then they enter the darkened room and look with wonder at the tree lit with candles and sparklers. Everyone stands around the tree to sing carols, and presents are exchanged.
On Christmas Day, the families eat a special Hungarian holiday meal which usually consists of fish, lentils and poppyseed strudel. We dress up, go to church and if there is snow, we might go outside to make a Hóember - snowman.
In Hungary, children do not hang up stockings to be filled. Instead, they get their best boot, polish it, and then put it on the windowsill for Mikolás to fill up with sweets, small presents, and "switches" - just in case anyone has been bad. In the countryside, children dress up in traditional folk costumes and go from house to house, knocking on the door. They ask to be allowed to tell the Christmas legend as a story, in verse or acted out. They are rewarded with a gift of money.
Linda Sarkadi was born in Dunaújváros, Hungary. She is in the fourth grade at P.S. 19 in Manhattan and studies piano at the Third Street Music Settlement. Her good friend, June Abrams, and her parents helped her research this article.
- originally published in the Holiday 1993 issue of ZuZu
drawings by Kirsten Wehman