Author Archives: Gage Miles III



Name Day (Névnap) celebrations are a popular tradition in Hungary. In Hungary, there is a registry of names that you can pick from when naming a child, and every child is given a name from that list. Each day of the year in Hungary is dedicated to 2-3 Hungarian names, and on that day, everyone who has those names gets celebrated. Name Day celebrations are similar but not as elaborate as birthdays. They are announced each day in the newspaper and on the radio, and throughout the day, Hungarians exchange celebratory greetings with the people whose names are being celebrated. Flowers and desserts are customarily given as small gifts, and a feast is often held in the evening with family and close friends to round out the day’s festivities. Where possible, the gifts and food are usually themed around the name being celebrated in associated recipes, cards, engravings, etc.


The informant participated in this tradition when he was living in Hungary as a child. He explained how many countries have Saint Day celebrations where everyone who has the name of a saint gets celebrated, but Hungary made this more inclusive by expanding these celebrations to include names from Hungary’s pagan history as well.


I would like to argue that Hungarian Name Day celebrations, which are meant to be secular holidays, in fact, have a distinctly religious purpose. My informant made a point of mentioning that many European countries have Saint Day celebrations, where everyone with the name of a saint is celebrated on a certain day of the year. However, Hungary chose to expand this to also include names in its pagan history that were not related to the saints or other biblical figures. However, why they chose to do this, I believe, is something worth probing further. While on the surface it could be argued that it was simply to be more inclusive, this doesn’t seem to add up. To explain, my informant told me that Hungary has a predetermined registry of names that every parent must pick from when naming their child. There are two lists, one for boys and one for girls. There are no gender neutral options, he said, and there is no room for creativity or personal expression. This rigid naming convention seems contrary towards promoting inclusivity, and so I would like to push back against the notion that Hungary merely expanded this holiday to seem “more inclusive.” I believe that it may have been a way of getting more of the population to identify with what was traditionally a Christian holiday (Saint Days), and thus, even historically pagan families with pagan names would be drawn to celebrate their Name Days in traditional Christian fashion, receiving gifts and acknowledgement to make them feel special. The customary rituals, gift giving, and greetings throughout the day all contribute to the appeal and allure of this annual celebration. Name Day celebrations were arguably aimed at attracting more people to Christian holidays, and so I conjecture that this ostensibly “pagan” holiday was a way of subtly reinforcing and promoting Christian values. 



Hungarians celebrate their version of Christmas, or Karácsony, on the night of December 24th. All day long, children are sequestered from their families and sent upstairs while the rest of the family prepares the Christmas tree and presents downstairs in secret. Come evening, all of the parents come upstairs and tell the children that they have spent the whole day preparing the Christmas feast, and that it is time to wait for the tree and presents to arrive. The parents often would use strings to set up a bell contraption which they would ring after a certain amount of time to signal that the tree and gifts arrived. In Hungary, Jesus and the angels were supposed to bring all of the gifts and decorations on Christmas, and the disembodied bell signified when they had arrived. After the bell rang, the whole family would go downstairs where the food and gifts were waiting for them. Then, they would then gather around the tree and sing hymns for 15 minutes before opening presents and having the feast. 


The informant participated in this tradition when he was living in Hungary as a child. He noted how Christmas in Hungary was more centered around religion, specifically in that Santa Claus was not part of the holiday (and had his own separate holiday earlier in the month) and instead it was Jesus and the angels who brought the presents. 


Many Western countries, especially the United States, celebrate Christmas in a more secular way. However, Christmas celebrations in Hungary are more closely aligned with the biblical tradition. In Hungarian Christmas traditions, there is an emphasis on the “miracle,” the spontaneous and magical appearance of gifts and Christmas decorations. Jesus and his angels themselves come down and bring all of the presents, food, and decorations instead of Santa Claus, who is a fictitious, secularized version of St. Nicholas. The purpose of this holiday is reflected in its form: to celebrate the quintessential “Christmas miracle,” or the immaculate conception where Mary conceived Jesus as a virgin. Hungarians do not lose sight of the central Christian focus of Christmas: to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the immaculate conception. And in Hungarian tradition, the central miracle which Christmas represents is mirrored by the simulation of a miracle in how it is celebrated. In other words, the miracle of Jesus’ birth is celebrated by the fabrication of another miracle, where the parents try to make their children believe that Jesus and the angels magically came down to give them presents. In addition, Hungarians celebrate Christmas on the night Jesus was actually born (Christmas Eve), not the morning after like many Western traditions. So clearly, Hungarian Christmas celebrations more accurately reflect canonical Christian tradition, adhering more strictly to Christian values. This stands in contrast to Western society which remains more impartial towards religion and how it is practiced. Christmas has become such a widespread holiday in America that much of its religious significance has been forgotten. However, in Hungary, I firmly believe that Christianity still has a very strong influence over the politics and customs of the nation. 



In Hungary, Santa Claus and Christmas are two separate things, and the Hungarian version of Santa Claus is more tied to St. Nicholas (Mikulás) and has a specific holiday dedicated to him on December 6th. On the night of December 5th, all the children are supposed to clean their shoes and then leave one by the door or window before bed. And that night, St. Nicholas is supposed to come and leave little goodies inside the shoe, like chocolates or trinkets. 


The informant participated in this tradition when he was living in Hungary as a child. He explained how this day marks the beginning of the advent calendar in Hungary, and if children behave well for the rest of the month after this day, then they’ll receive lots of presents for Christmas.


The dissociation of Santa Claus with Christmas is a fascinating element of Hungarian folk celebrations. However, I believe there is a reason for this. Again, with Hungary’s greater focus on a more accurate biblical representation of Christmas, it is not surprising that St. Nicholas (or Santa Claus) would be excluded. St. Nicholas was not present on the night Jesus was born, nor did he become a significant figure until several hundred years later, and so his association with the Christmas holiday is not rooted in biblical or historical accuracy, which is important in Hungarian tradition. There is also a certain significance of filling shoes with gifts. Aside from the fact that St. Nicholas was known for putting gold in the stockings of the poor, which I do believe is part of the origin of this tradition (“Who is St. Nicholas?”), the use of shoes as a way of receiving gifts has starkly religious implications. First of all, feet are a recurring symbol of humility in the Bible, exemplified in the story where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper. Shoes, then, seem to be a stand-in for this symbol of humility, a way of humbling oneself before God and asking for blessings in the form of gifts. This may also be reinforced in the fact that children only leave one shoe, not both, by the window or door. It further instills the values of modesty and humility in children by making them ask for less than the amount that they’re able to take. In addition, there may have been practical economic reasons for using shoes as a way of receiving gifts as well. Hungary is known for having a turbulent economic history following the dissolution of communism in the country, and the use of shoes to receive gifts could be a callback to a time where the majority of the population had to live more modestly. There were no fancy vases or baskets to put gifts in, so children had to use their shoes, which were more accessible household items. Thus, the relationship of this holiday to humility, both in a religious and economic sense, seems striking and certainly worth further inquest. It also marks the beginning of the advent calendar for Hungarians, after which Hungarian children must behave well in order to receive presents on Christmas. St. Nicholas Day thus sets a symbolic precedent for the type of behavior (kindness, humility) that must be displayed for the remainder of the month until Christmas. 

“Who is St. Nicholas?” St. Nicholas Center: Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus, Accessed 30 Apr. 2023. 

Professional Mourning


After someone dies in China, you throw a large celebration in their honor, and during these events, people often hire a professional wailer to aid in mourning. These wailers stand vigil and scream and cry for hours following a burial. They wear all white as a sign of mourning and respect.


The last time the informant went to China when she was 9, she was walking the streets with her mother and sister in the province of Hunan when she encountered a large funeral celebration, complete with firecrackers, lights, and banners. However, at this celebration she encountered a professional wailer for the first time, dressed in all white and screaming loudly near a grave. Her mother told her that wailing is a way to honor the deceased in China, and the louder the cries, the more you honor their memory.  


Chinese culture is known to promote the restraint of emotion in public settings. This culture makes it difficult or taboo for individuals to publicly cry and mourn (Cheukie). However, at the same time, not doing so at a funeral would be disrespectful towards the dead, so as a result, the practice of professional mourning was born. This is both a way of honoring the dead while also preserving the honor of the self since it is not socially proper to cry in public, and many might have a difficult time doing so when the situation does call for it. For this reason, I believe professional wailing became popular in China as a way of showing respect and reverence for the dead while also upholding the norms of social propriety. The wailers manufacture emotion, allowing negative feelings to be expressed in a way that is more culturally acceptable.

Cheukie. “Emotional Suppression in Chinese Culture.” Medium, 9 Sept. 2019, Accessed 1 May 2023. 



Locsolkodás (“Pouring” day) happens on the Monday after Easter. That morning, the young men will pour water or perfume on the girls. Modern versions of this ritual involve going to the women in the household and reciting a short poem to them, after which you offer them “the sprinkling” in the form of a spritz of water or perfume. 

Here is an example of one of the poems that are commonly told:


Zöld erdőben jártam

Kék ibolyát láttam,

El akart hervadni,

Szabad-e locsolni? 


Zöld → Green / erdőben → in the forest / jártam → I went,

Kék → Blue /  ibolyát → violets / láttam → I saw,

El → Away / akart → wanted / hervadni → to wither,

Szabad-e → Is it free / locsolni → to water?


I was walking in the green forest,

And I saw blue violets,

They wanted to wither,

Am I allowed to water you?


The informant participated in this tradition when they were living as a child in Hungary. He explained how the “sprinkling” represented a flowering of youth, vitality, and good fortune for women. He also explained how versions of this tradition have become more tame over time, factoring in an element of consent, whereas earlier versions were more aggressive and less pleasant. 


At its core, I believe the Hungarian “Pouring day” (Locsolkodás) is a fertility ritual. For one, it emphasizes young girls who are experiencing menstruation for the first time. Franciso vaz de Silva associates menstruation with a rose, “the fruitful aspect of womb blood as well as for youth” (245). The poem above also refers to women as “blue violets,” a type of flower. By associating flowers with fertility, it is easy to see why the ritual of “sprinkling” came into practice. It is a way of symbolically blessing a woman’s fertility and the continuation of her menstrual cycles. The fact that men are the ones doing the sprinkling further reinforces the reproductive and gendered nature of this ritual. It is a way of encouraging a woman’s “blooming” when she becomes able to have children. However, what I also find fascinating is how my informant made a point of distinguishing both old and new forms of this tradition. Antiquated versions of the “sprinkling” included dumping a pale of cold water over a woman while she was still asleep, or taking her to a well and dunking her in. However, more modern versions of this tradition involve a poem, which asks for consent (“Am I allowed to water you?”), something that was altogether absent in earlier versions. The introduction of consent in more modern versions of this ritual shows how cultural values and gendered attitudes have shifted over time, where reproductive rights have become a much more prevalent issue in contemporary society. In modern versions of the ritual, Hungarian women are not being forced into a reproductive role, but rather they are first asked if they would like to partake, and only then if they grant their permission does the ritual proceed.