Oh, it is that time of the year again! As December approaches, our calendar gets filled with various fun and festive gatherings. However, it is not only Christmas that Hungarians anticipate so much! There are numerous traditions celebrated in Hungary that honour the change of the seasons as well as the arrival and passing of winter. Some customs and rituals might sound a bit odd or unusual at first, but it just adds to the beauty of the rich local culture. We thought to compile a list of the most significant and fascinating Hungarian winter traditions, so you will never miss an important date again!
Once the harvest season was over, women would spend most of their time weaving in the villages, which they began usually towards the end of November. This activity would often last until the Carnival season. However, there were certain religious days when weaving was frowned upon or even forbidden, for example, on the days of Luca (13 December) and Borbála (4 December) as well as on Christmas day (24-25 December). All women of the village would gather together and amuse themselves with singing, games and retelling folklore tales while making richly detailed tapestries, tablecloths and alike. On the day of András (30 December), young unmarried girls kept a 24-hour fasting day, during which all they consumed were three wheat grains and three drops of water. According to the folklore tradition, following that ritual, their dream would reveal their future husband.
There are many weird and fascinating folklore traditions linked to the day of St. Luca. Most importantly, it was forbidden for women to do any work or house chores. Those who broke this rule had to face various punishments: they were hit in the head with a spindle, their yarn would get tangled, or their hens would not be able to lay eggs anymore. Historically, in villages across the country, local men would begin to carve the Luca stool with the intent to finish it just before Christmas. If stood upon during the Christmas church service, the carvers of the stools would be able to identify which members of the congregation were witches. However, once a witch was spotted, she would attempt to catch the villager who outed her. People running from the witch would spread poppy seeds on the ground to trick the angry hexes. Witches were known for their love of poppy seeds, so they stopped to collect the seeds, which allowed time for the villagers to find a safe shelter.
Read more: Strange Hungarian habits
The first Christmas trees appeared in the bigger Hungarian cities around the 1940s. In Transylvania though, children were still anticipating the arrival of the “golden colt” which came with gifts, even during WWI and WWII. Another interesting fact about the tradition of exchanging gifts is that Hungarian children, at least the ones who behaved well throughout the year, receive presents also on 6 December when Santa Claus pays a visit to the families. The first references to Nativity Plays go back to the 20th century. There were two versions; Christmas pageants were either played out by actors or puppets. In some regions, Paradise plays were also common which re-enacted the Biblical cautionary tale of Adam and Eve. While in other parts of Hungary, on the day of the Christmas fast, the herdsmen would walk around the village with rods and pass by each house. The women of the village would take as many rods from their haversacks as the number of cows they owned and then slap the legs of the herdsmen with the rods. It was supposed to bring good fortune and prosperity.
Much like European and North American carolling, regölés or singing good wishes is a Hungarian winter tradition. From 26 December until New Year, singers, called regösök, would visit all the houses in the village and sing good wishes to their neighbours. According to etymologists, the word regöles has a Finno-Ugric origin and is can be linked to the deep trance the shamans of the old Hungarian tribes would fall into. In the Transdanubium region, young men carrying chain whips and jug horns would visit families with unmarried girls and sing their enchanting songs that included fertility and prosperity wishes. In some cases, these songs were meant to fix up two young people and set them off to marriage. In the introduction part, the singing visitors would tell their audience that they had a long and tiring journey behind them. At times, they would also highlight that they were not robbers but they served King Stephen I of Hungary.
Read more: Weird Hungarian traditions
Source: eminenceorganicfarm.com, inf.u-szeged.hu