Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks for following my travels!
This picture is actually from Mikulas Nap, or Santa Claus Day in Hungary. On the evening of December 5, children polish their shoes and put them neatly on the window sill. That night, Mikulas (Santa) comes and delivers small gifts by putting them in the shoes.
For very lucky children, he even makes a personal appearance. That’s what you see my cousin Misi enjoying above. Mikulas tells you what you did well during the year, and where you can improve. Once you promise to do better by say, not talking so much in class, he gives you your presents. Usually you get one small toy and a lot of chocolate.
And if you were especially bad, he brings a virgács (or twig), painted gold or covered in aluminum foil, which is intended to symbolize that you deserve a few good smacks! The size indicates how naughty you were. (Mikulas always brought my dad the biggest virgács.)
Anyway, it took a while to get to the warm hug you see above. Misi was initially terrified of the oddly bearded man in his kitchen, and kept his distance. But before long, he was on the ground doing push-ups and sit-ups, showing off how strong he’d grown since last year.
And then, Santa’s job is done. He doesn’t make any more Christmas related appearances. On Christmas Eve, it’s the Angels who bring you a tree (secretly; the room is blocked so the kids can’t see in) and all the Christmas presents. That night, when the Angels are done decorating and wrapping, they ring a bell letting the family know it’s ok to enter. The tree is then revealed fully decorated to everyone at once. It’s a magnificent surprise, and one of my best memories as a kid. (That and going to see movies during the day on Christmas Eve to get out of the Angels’ hair. Back to the Future will forever hold a magical place in my heart for this reason.)
Back to the tree. After some family carols and prayers, you eat dinner together and then open the presents! It’s usually a fairly late night. Christmas Day is spent visiting family and eating. No presents from Santa - he already came on the 6th.
So there you have it, Hungarian Christmas traditions, a la my family (meaning, with a Transylvanian twist). One of the hardest parts about long-term travel is that you tend to be away from family during the holidays. I hope they are having a wonderful time together back in California.