USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Hungarian’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hungarian Christmas

The informant is a 20 year old girl who grew up in Morristown, New Jersey. Her mother is Italian and her father is Hungarian.  When asked about any Hungarian customs she participates in, she told me about a family tradition at Christmastime.

Informant: Hungarians do christmas differently than we do here.  The tradition is that instead of geting all of your presents the day of, you get them all the night before.  Also, instead of Santa, baby jesus and his angels are the ones who fly around and give presents. Called Jesuska- little Jesus. He and his angels fly around, so what you have to do is going in the basement… I’m not sure if this is how all people do it, but for my family… we go in the basement and wait until we hear the bell ring and that means Jesuska has left and all the presents are under the tree.

Me: Why do you think Hungarians do this instead of Santa? Which do you think came first?

Informant: Santa is a Western thing.  It all came out of christianity, we know that, but this tradition definitely started before the whole commercialized thing.

Me: How long have you been doing this for?

Informant: My dad and grandparents all did it when they were young, and my brother and I have been doing it our whole lives

Me: Until what age did you believe that Jesuska was actually visiting your house?

Informant: Uhh, I stopped believing around 4th grade.  Same time as people stopped believing in Santa. Luke [little brother] still fully believes. He is all about it.

Me: Did you know about Santa too?

Informant: Yes, I also believed in Santa. I never put it together when I was younger that it was the same thing. It never conflicted. Jesuska is what all my family on my dad’s side talked about and Santa was what every else talked about. They were totally separate.

My analysis: There are dozens and dozens of different ways that people celebrate Christmas.   Because it is such a widespread holiday, it is as if different cultures needed to find a way to take some type of ownership over it and differentiate their celebrations from others. What is unique about the informant’s experience is that she simultaneously partook in two traditions from two different cultures and never felt any conflict between them. This is despite the fact that they essentially satisfied the same needs of getting presents under the tree. One tradition is not any more special or important than the other to the informant, they are simply different, representing different parts of her family. Great example of the way that traditions may be changed and modified for a future generation of people who are the children of marriages between parents from different nationalities.

Folk speech

Hungarian Expressions: How to Curse with Style

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The problem with the Hungarian language is that you cannot learn it. It is something you are born with. I can never figure out, I speak it, but I can never figure out how it is put together. Like, for instance- oh this is going to sound bad. You are saying, ‘the wind is blowing’. Now you say, ‘blow the wind’, ok? The word blow is ‘fúj’. So it is ‘fúj a víz. The water is flowing.’ My mother used to say to me ‘fújd ki az orrod.’ Which means, ‘blow out your nose!’

My father used to say some other things that weren’t too nice. He would get a delivery- he was a handbag maker, he would get a delivery or material or something and he would open the package and say, ‘this is not what I ordered’. But he would get mad; he would say ‘akkor kapsz csapott az arcába!’ which means, ‘may you get slapped in the face!’ And the other one is when he really got mad he would say, ‘May hell eat it, or eat you! Pokol lehel megenni, vagy megenni!‘ Now there are others, but they really are not translatable.”


In my research I was not able to confirm if the two expressions are commonly used.  My informant’s father was known to have a bad temper, therefore it was of no surprise to me to hear that his father used to use profanity against the delivery man.  My informant teased that  the Hungarian language contains many swearing expressions, and a common joke is that in Hungarian you can swear for 5 minutes and not use the same word twice.  However, I do not think that the use of profanity in the Hungarian language is any different than the use of profanity in other languages in that there is a time and place for it’s usage.  I found that the expressions in my research were much more vulgar than the ones my informant told me, but as my informant later expressed to me he was not comfortable saying such vulgar things to a young lady.  Prior to this interview, I had never heard my informant use either phrase or speak Hungarian unless I asked him to.

My informant was born to Hungarian immigrants in 1928 Paris, France.  He later immigrated to California in 1947, having spent much of War World II in hiding due to his Jewish heritage.  He holds multiple citizenships in both the United States and France.  He now lives in Manhattan Beach, California with his wife and has three children and five grandchildren.