Holiday Gift Giving Traditions in Hungary
Hungary is a jewel of a nation and is home to many of the world’s most beautiful places. Its capital, Budapest, called the “Pearl of the Danube”, is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list because of its beauty preserved through the years and despite many historical adversities. Roman ruins and ancient Turkish monuments dot the Hungarian countryside, together with breath-taking churches, ancient castles and magnificent palaces. It is also a place of natural wonders, like the natural paradise beauty of Lake Balaton, Central Europe’s largest lake. Many people are said to have recovered from health problems when they immersed themselves in Hungary’s hundreds of therapeutic thermal springs. The lifestyle and culture of the “puszta” or the Great Hungarian Plains is artistically depicted in the rich Hungarian folk arts and horse shows, attracting thousands of tourists yearly.
But the most important feature of Hungary that lures visitors is the legendary Hungarian hospitality. The mix of the horse-riding Magyar people, the Romanian gypsies, and other ethnic groups comprise the Hungarian stock. These friendly people love to celebrate life in the form of many holidays and festivities.
To Hungarians, New Year is a milestone signifying the passage of time, where new hopes and aspirations are born, and old regrets are left behind. They love to start the year with a positive frame of mind. This is why they burn an effigy of “Jack Straw” during the turn of the year. Jack straw symbolizes all that is evil, ill-fortuned, and unhappy about the past year. New Year’s Eve is a time of gift giving and is spent with friends and family over traditional dishes such as cold pork in aspic, wienerwurst with horseradish or mustard and poppy-seed, and some Christmas left-over.
St. Night Christmas is celebrated from December 24 to 25. It is the most intimate family occasion of the year where a major gift giving mood sets in. Families are busy preparing their Christmas presents to loved ones, decorating the Christmas tree, and cooking the Christmas dinner. Families enjoy the traditional menu of fish-soup, fried fish and poppy-seed and nut roll. Candles are lighted on Christmas trees and Christmas songs are sung as presents are opened. Christians attend the midnight mass. The day after Christmas up to December 26 is the time for visiting other relatives and spending a happy day with them.
Valentine’s Day is a young holiday in Hungary, having been celebrated in the last 20 years only. It is a time to celebrate love, togetherness and intimacy. The vibrant and warm Hungarian spirit comes to the fore in a romantic mood of gift giving on the 14th day of February. Red roses, champagne, chocolates, and romantic music scream love and passion. Enjoying a quiet walk with loved ones at the Chain Bridge facing the Danube, or sharing special moments at any of the chic and cozy cafes and pubs is usually the way Valentine’s Day is observed in Hungary.
Every March 8, Flower Day is observed with a gift giving of flowers by men to women at work, home and school.
Easter is an important religious holiday in Hungary. Every Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) people observe penitential fasting and going on a meat-less diet to honor the crucifixion of Christ. A traditional dinner consists of lentils or bean soup. On Easter Monday, the tradition of “sprinkling” is observed; where Hungarian males greet females they meet on that day with poems and sprinkle them with cologne. Women in return treat the males with dessert, beverages and hand-painted eggs. There is major gift giving on Easter as children receive small gifts like chocolate bunnies and hand-painted eggs or sometimes a small offering of fruits and nuts. Families go to church on Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The first Sunday of May is reserved for Mother’s day. It is a gift giving affair with mothers as the main recipients of flowers and often handmade presents. Fathers respect this observance by taking care of the kids the whole morning and allowing mothers to enjoy a nice free time for themselves. A family dinner arranged by the father in honor of the mother closes this nice day for moms.
Santa Claus (St. Nicholas’) Day
The night before December 6, children excitedly place their clean boots on window-sills and wake up in the morning to find out whether they have been good or bad. “Good” kids get candies, nuts and fruit, and even small toys in their boots, while “bad” ones get nothing but bunches of twigs. Mikuls, or St. Nicholas a.k.a Santa Claus is a friendly gift giving legend in Hungary.
The 1848 Revolution Day is held every March. Pentecost Sunday and Monday are held consecutively 50 days after Easter. Labour Day is observed on May 1. The National day is held every October 23 with speeches and exhibits. All Saints’ Day is observed every November 1 as a solemn holiday in honor of the dead with families laying flowers on their deceased loved ones’ graves. Saint Stephens Day is held in August to celebrate the founding of the Magyar state. September opens the annual Film and Cinema Celebration in Budapest with participants coming from all over the world. A feast of festivals is also hosted in Hungary such as the famous Sziget Music Festival in Budapest and Balaton Sound at the beautiful Lake Balaton.