Tag Archives: Hungarian



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, https://www.stnicholascenter.org/who-is-st-nicholas. Accessed 30 Apr. 2023. 

Szekely and Hungarian Proverbs

Main Text: 

Szekely & Hungarian Proverbs

Background on Informant: 

My informant is originally from Romania, specifically the Transylvania region that is intermixed with Romanian and Hungarian roots. They came to the United States at 24 and have been here since. They are very knowledgable with the cultural context of Romania and Hungary, having grown up in Szekely tradition (a subgroup of Hungarian people living in Romania). They have graciously shared with me parts of their folklore and heritage. 


They explain:

“You know a lot of these phrases stem from long traditions of proverbs and jokes, and I can remember as far back as my great-grandparents using these, but obviously many have evolved since then. 

A few I remember are: 

Sok lúd disznót győz. 

A rough translation would be like ‘A lot of geese can fight a pig’. It means that if someone is fighting against another person, if a lot of weaker people team up together they can take down the strongest opponent — hence a pack of geese against a pig is stronger than a single goose standing against a pig. 

My grandfather would tell me this a lot, he always had a fighting spirit. I guess in an American version it would like— united we stand something along those lines. 

Another one is

Itt van a kutya elásva

It kind of means ‘this is where the dog is buried’. We have this superstitious belief in our culture where if someone trips, it means that where they tripped is where a dog under the spell of the devil is buried. They also say that it might also have precious gems buried along with it. 

My mother would use it in a sort of more modern sense, to represent telling the truth, especially when we were younger to warn us about lying. 

Elszaladt vele a ló. 

This means ‘the horse ran away with him,’ it kind of means when people get carried away, it can be in pride or success — anything getting too much into someone’s head. The symbolism is that a good rider can control his/her horse but if they lose control they get the consequences.”


Listening and learning about these phrases allowed me to get some insight into Szekely ‘wisdom’ and expressions. I had never heard of these but even with the context they are very reminiscent of expressions I have heard in my own life. A lot of the phrases are attributed in a cultural context to the typical historical past of Hungary/Romania as a lot of them are associated with farm animals like horses and pigs that are very typical of the ancestral past and even in today’s traditions. 

I like how they all offer different insight into situations and how they evolved over time. I also like how they have been phrases that the person has experienced first hand themselves on several occasions and it was enjoyable to learn about. Overall, it was interesting to observe the cultural context of these proverbs and sayings and connecting them to the ones that I grew up listening to and observing how each culture has the same wisdom just said and established differently. 


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Házi Áldás

Main Text:

Házi Áldás 

Hol hit, ott szeretet

Hol szeretet, ott béke

How béke, ott áldás

Hol áldás, ott Isten 

Hol Isten 

Ott szükség nincsen. 


House Blessing 

Where there is faith, there is love

Where there is love, there is peace

Where there is peace, there is blessing

Where there is blessing, there is God

Where there is God

There is no need. 

Background about Informant: 

She was born and raised in Hungary, but moved to the United States in 1997. She is knowledgable of her roots and has lots of wisdom to share about its’ cultural traditions. She comes from a religious background in Catholicism and is experienced with Hungary Catholic practices and beliefs. 


She explains: 


“In Hungary, entering a household is considered scared and thus its’ sacredness is embodied in the Házi Áldás (House Blessing). It is often seen in embroidery, carved in wood, and other traditional arts. 

In bonds with Hungarian Catholicism, it is meant to serve as a list of virtues to living a pious life under God’s blessings. 

It is also a statement of wisdom that reflects familial bonds and a connection to past cultural beliefs tied with religion. 

In the past, people would hang this on the wall to preserve their faith in God. It began only being used in civic houses, but eventually it even started appearing in peasant households and farmhouses. 

The power of the text allowed people to believe that God would bless the people in the house if the text was present. It is traditionally placed in kitchens. 

Lots of people still sell them today at craft fairs and mostly to tourists.

It’s not really used as much as it was in the past and today it’s used more for decoration, than for spiritual purposes.”


In my research and interview, I was able to learn more about the history behind the Házi Áldás. Having Hungarian roots myself and a Házi Áldás in my own kitchen, I’ve always wondered what its’ purpose has been. Since my informant is religious and grew up in a Hungarian Catholic household, she was very knowledge about the context behind the Házi Áldás rich history. Hungary has a history of being religious and attributing to its’ history it was no surprise that people dealt a great deal of value to such texts, but it was interesting to learn about how it shifted from civic houses to the poorer population, because even so today most of the poorer population are the ones contributing to the religious life in Hungary. 

I also found the shift from the Házi Áldás as a sacred text to now a symbol of craft and tourist souvenirs. It highlights the disconnect between Hungary’s traditional past which suffered a lot because of its’ Communism past where a lot of these traditions are not practiced or valued because of its’ censorship under particular leaders. But overall, I was very ‘blessed’ to learn about the history behind the Házi Áldás and its’ shift from a valuable text of great importance to now being found in every gift shop available, a path that many of these relics are finding themselves headed towards, opening eyes to how Hungary is trying to preserve their past. 


For visual references and information visit:



Easter ‘Locsolas’

Main Text: 

Hungary’s Easter ‘Locsolkodás’

Background on Informant: 

She was born and raised in Hungary, but moved to the United States in 1997. She is knowledgable of her roots and has lots of wisdom to share about its’ cultural traditions. She grew up in a religious family who practiced many Easter customs including the Easter ‘locsolas’ (‘sprinkling’)


She explains: 


“During Easter (Húsvét), we have this custom called ‘locsolas’ (sprinkling).  Girls are symbolically viewed as flowers, and if they are not sprinkled they risk withering away. 

So on Easter Monday, men (dressed in traditional costumes) fill buckets with water and the girls gather in pretty traditional clothing as well and wait for the arrival of the men. 

Men also have tradition ‘sprinkling poems’ that they recite. The most popular is this one:

Zold erdobe jartam,

Kek ibolyat lattam, 

Elakart hervadni,

Szabad-e locsolni?


I went to a green forest,

I saw a blue violet,

It was wilting,

Can I water it?

The girls have to agree to be ‘watered’ and then the men will ‘sprinkle’ them by dumping the buckets of water and the girls will reward them with painted eggs, desserts, and drinks. 

However, while it still happens, the buckets of water have evolved into less extreme things such as a spray of perfume or cologne. Although in the countryside they probably still stick to the buckets. 

My brother loved this holiday because he got a lot of food and chocolates, I liked it too but the water was always so cold. I used to want to get revenge and splash the boys right back. 

But as I got older, people resorted to simpler versions such as spraying perfume. 

It is one my favorite traditions because it is so simple and still practiced. It’s all in good fun” 


Having grown up in this tradition too, it was interesting to hear a first-hand explanation of the event. For me, it’s more modern now with perfume as a simple way to continue the tradition but it was fascinating listening to my interviewers personal experiences with it.

From researching, I learned that this tradition started as far back as the 2nd century AD, and was a ritual meant to promote fertility and purification. Connecting it back with lessons in and readings studied in class, I definitely saw and was able to understand more clearly how this custom evolved. 

I like how this event is sort of a rite of passage and that it is a celebration that everyone in the culture partakes in. I also love how often many of these customs have died out or are dying out in Hungary, but this one remains a strong part of Hungary’s Easter cultural identity and is still very popular. Overall, I think it’s a wonderful traditional that can gather a community for some good fun. 


For visual reference: