Published: July 31 2023
Yes, Hungarians do celebrate Christmas Eve, and it's considered one of the most significant holidays in Hungary. Celebrations are often a blend of traditional Hungarian customs alongside more globally recognized traditions. In this post, we'll delve deeper into the special ways Hungarians celebrate Christmas Eve.
Hungarian Christmas Eve Traditions
Hungarian Christmas Eve, known as 'Szenteste' or ‘Holy Evening’, is celebrated with an array of traditional rituals and customs. These can vary depending on where you are in the country, but there are some universally practiced traditions.
Decorating the Christmas Tree
Hungarians typically decorate their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve itself, a tradition dating back to the 19th Century. The tree is most often decorated with delicate, homemade ornaments, twinkling lights, brightly coloured foil, and szaloncukor, a traditional Hungarian Christmas candy wrapped in shiny coloured foil and hung on the tree.
Just like in many cultures, a family meal is a significant part of Hungarian Christmas Eve. Traditional dishes, like fish soup, stuffed cabbage, and beigli–a poppy seed or walnut roll–are prepared. Christmas Eve dinner is usually meatless in Hungary, a Catholic tradition often maintained even by those who are not religious.
Gifting and "Jézuska"
One of the most delightful Hungarian customs is the arrival of “Jézuska” (Little Jesus) or “Angyalka” (Little Angel) on Christmas Eve. After dinner, children are told to go to a different room or go outside and sing Christmas carols while Jézuska or the angels ‘bring’ the presents, which are then placed under the Christmas tree.
Christmas Eve Church Services
No Christmas Eve in Hungary would be complete without Midnight Mass. Many Hungarian families attend church services, where they join in singing carols and listening to scripture readings celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Indeed, Christmas Eve holds a special place in the hearts of Hungarians. Despite the influence of western traditions, Hungary continues to maintain its unique customs and practices, making their Christmas Eve celebration a remarkable blending of popular and traditional elements. Whether it's in the preparation of festive dishes, decorating the Christmas tree, or attending Midnight Mass, the Hungarian way embraces the spirit of the holiday centered around family, faith, and tradition.