Hungarian Christmas customs differ from other peoples’ in many ways. For example, Hungarians open presents on December 24th and they present how Baby Jesus was born through a nativity play which is called in Hungarian “betlehemezés”. But who brings the presents under the tree in Hungary? And how did Christmas look like during the Communist era?

The time when the family comes together

From a religious point of view, Christmas is one of the biggest Christian holidays. Roman Catholics take part on a midnight mass at the night of December 24th while Protestants do the same though they call it worship. Roman Catholic families are

fasting on December 24 and they only eat supper in the evening. 

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Christmas, 1942. Soldiers fighting in the Soviet Union also celebrated Christmas regardless whether they were Roman Catholics or Protestants.

Traditional Hungarian dishes during Christmas were apple, nuts, honey, garlic, bean soup without meat and mákos guba. The latter is a typical Hungarian dessert which is also known in Germany (Mohnpielen) and Poland (makówki), as well. Recently, they also put fish and stuffed cabbage on the Christmas table.

Here we wrote more about how a traditional Hungarian Christmas dinner looks like.

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A finely laid Hungarian Christmas table from the good old 70s

According to the folklore,

how the Christmas table was laid had a decisive impact on the future of the family.

or example, they seeded using the Christmas tablecloth next Spring. Moreover, they put grain on the table and gave it to the poultries to help them lay eggs- Furthermore, they put hay under the table remembering that Baby Jesus was born in a barn. Later they gave that hay to the animals to help them remain healthy or tied it on the fruit trees hoping that there will be a good harvest.

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Christmas, 1908 and 1909. Hungarian children believe for many years in the religious families that the tree is brought by Baby Jesus (“Jézuska”) or the Angel even today.

Family members gather together on the evening of December 24 and sometimes even for a meal on December 25. In religious families, children are told that the Baby Jesus brings the presents and even the Christmas tree. Interestingly, in some parts of Transylvania, the Angel brings the Christmas tree and the presents.

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Who brings the Christmas present in Europe?
Map: Jakub Marian. jakubmarian.com

Communists wanted to transform the meaning of Christmas

Presenting how Baby Jesus was born is a very important custom in Hungary practised even today. The nativity play is called “betlehemezés,” and it has similar features to Christmas carolling, but it is not all about going to strangers’ houses and singing Christmas songs. Rather, it is a dramatic play in which multiple people take part. “Betlehemezés” introduces the birth of Jesus Christ and the visit of the Three Wise Men (biblical Magi) through dialogues and carols. The play is performed in a manger where we find the holy family.

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The nativity play performed by Szeklers.

Even the communist regime could not end the basic traditions of Christmas in Hungary even though they tried that hard. For example, they renamed it to the celebration of the pine tree.

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Invitation to a so-called pine tree celebration from the 1980s.

They even replaced the Bethlehem star topping Christmas trees before with the five-pointed red star of the Soviet Empire and the Communist movement.

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Vörösmarty square, 1979.

However, they were not successful in transforming the original meaning of Christmas to something else. People stuck to old customs and even some Communist leaders like the 1956 martyr PM Imre Nagy celebrated Christmas.

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Imre Nagy and his family celebrating Christmas.

Featured image: Christmas presents from the 1960s.

Photos: fortepan.hu, jakubmarian.com

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