Christmas in Hungary is one of the biggest and most widely celebrated holidays in the country.
There are innumerable similarities between Christmas in Hungary and Christmas throughout the western world. So while Christmas everywhere is a special holiday, the differences in how we celebrate it make it a unique and interesting experience.
So let’s take a look at some of the differences.
Christmas in Hungary: a 3-day holiday
The biggest difference for Christmas in Hungary is the somewhat eastern-european habit of making it a 3 day holiday – which of course means not working for 3 days. Or for some Hungarians even more than that – read on and you’ll find out why.
Both December 25th and 26th are official Holidays in Hungary. That means all the shops are closed for two whole days – yes really, all shops. Some gas stations and non-regular businesses might be open, but the majority of people will be at home.
Although the 24th – Christmas Eve – is a regular working day, it has acquired a special status. It “exchanges” its working day status with a Saturday in December. The original Saturday becomes a normal working day and Christmas Eve becomes a “Saturday”.
I know this is strange for most people, but this is how it works. In 2015 for example, the 24th of December is a Thursday, but not a working day in Hungary. It is exchanged for Dec 12th Saturday, which then becomes a regular working day (most people don’t work on those exchanged Saturdays by the way, but that’s another story).
Wait, it gets better! A lot of people take some of their vacation before and after Christmas – in Hungary people have 20-30 days of vacation each year. Even entire companies, generally smaller ones, close for the whole holiday season. Basically you should forget about regular business hours between the last weekend before Christmas and the first monday of the new year.
Christmas in Hungary: When do you get the presents?
For the kids I think the biggest difference is that Christmas presents in Hungary are “delivered” on the evening of the 24th.
This makes it a big challenge for the parents I can tell you. While in some countries parents have their kids asleep while they prepare the Christmas surprise, Hungarien parents need a smart solution to manage this situation. It’s very difficult to wrap presents and place them under the tree with excited children running up and down the house.
In most families the kids go for a walk with their father or grandparents in the afternoon, while their mother or maybe both parents create the magic.
Christmas in Hungary: When do we decorate our Christmas tree?
Speaking of Christmas Trees, we also buy our tree way before Christmas – although more and more families are opting for plastic Christmas Trees – but we only decorate it on the afternoon of the 24th.
On the day of Christmas Eve lunch is generally a light one, then everyone sets about decorating the tree. Or maybe not everyone…
Depending on individual family traditions, sometimes the kids are involved in tree decorating, but sometimes this is part of the task of the mother while the kids are outside with their father – or grandparents. In this case it is Santa who brings the tree with the presents. Or wait! Is it Santa?
Christmas in Hungary: No Santa here at Christmas time!
I can tell you one thing for sure: it is definitely not Santa for Hungarian kids. In Hungary Santa comes on the 6th of December (Santa Claus in Hungarian is Mikulás or télapó), so he’s already done his job for that year.
So who comes on Christmas Eve?
In Hungary we say it is the Baby Jesus who brings the presents, and sometimes the tree. In fact he is called Jézuska in Hungarian which is not exactly baby Jesus, but that’s how it is translated to English most of the time.
The word Jézuska cannot be correctly translated to English. Technically it is a diminutive form of the word Jesus, which does not necessarily mean a baby. For those who speak Spanish, Jesusito would be the same. I’d never thought about him being a baby during my childhood.
Christmas in Hungary: forget everything on Christmas Eve!
If you come to Hungary as a tourist during Christmas time, I advise you not to plan anything on Christmas Eve.
Shops are generally open until noon, but after that everything closes. I think there is even a law regarding this, so this is kind of an official closing hour on that day.
And not only the shops are closed, but even public transportation comes to a stop in the afternoon. The last buses, subways etc. depart around 3-4PM, and then only night service is available (only in Budapest). Tip: See Budapest Night transportation map here and read about public transportation during the holiday season here.
There is good news though! Parking is free in Budapest from Dec 24th till the first Sunday of January.
Do you know any other surprising Hungarian Christmas tradition? Share with us below in the comments section!