Changing Christmas customs in Hungary

I am watching with a certain fascination what’s going on in Hungary as far as the celebration of Christmas is concerned. There used to be the Day of Saint Nicholas (his name day is December 6, today). In Hungary small children put their boots out on the window sill on the evening of December 5 and if they were good they received small gifts, mostly candy, the next morning. And then there was Christmas Eve when little Jesus with the help of angels brought the Christmas tree and the gifts underneath it. The tree was set up secretly while the children went somewhere with one of their parents, usually their fathers, for a long walk or a visit with grandparents while the mother busily decorated the tree. The world outside was dark, with the exception of the one official tree, called Everybody’s Christmas tree.

Well, things have changed: different customs from all over the world have arrived in Hungary. Santa Claus still brings chocolate to the children on December 6, but nowadays he is busy at Christmas time as well. In the old days Santa Claus could be seen for only about a week before December 6 in shop windows, made out of chocolate and covered with red and and silver foil. Nowaways, just like in the United States or England, Santa Claus sits in shopping malls having long conversations with children about gifts. He has taken over little Jesus’s job. And yes, the reindeer are there too. A few days ago I heard the story of a young man (27) who got very upset when he heard a Tesco ad in which the store urged children to tell Santa Claus to buy their presents at Tesco! This ad, he claimed, ruined the element of surprise at Christmas time.

Nowadays the streets are not dark either. The whole city of Budapest is adding more and more lights. The main thoroughfares are lavishly decorated. People are madly buying decorations for outside use: for the trees, for window decorations, for the doors of their apartments. I just heard today that as a result of this Christmas decoration mania the consumption of electricity has reached an all-time high.

And Hungarians have added another, this time German, custom to their repertoire: the Advent wreath and calendar. Four Sundays before Christmas a wreath with four candles is placed on a table: they light one the first Sunday, two on the second, three on the third, and finally all four on the fourth. But the best part of this German custom is the Advent calendar. There are all sorts of calendars, but apparently the most popular is the one that has twenty-four little windows, each filled with candy.

Meanwhile, Hungarian shoppers are busy at the ever growing numbers of malls. And tension rides high: apparently two shoppers got into a fist fight over a shopping cart.

Apparently, the most popular gifts this year are laptops and global positioning systems. Sound familiar? Globalization has surely arrived.