In Europe, holiday traditions tend to be very different from what is known in North America. If you’re Orthodox, for example, your Christmas is actually in January, not the 25th of December as widely known. And for most, the North American association of Santa Claus and December 25th, does not exist. For many nations, Santa Claus / St. Nicholas actually comes earlier in the month (as I discovered in the Netherlands), and Christmas is a religious holiday. And Hungary is no different. However, with globalization and Americanization, there are more and more associations of Christmas with Santa. But here, its the best of both worlds. A small celebration now, before the full holiday.
December 6 every year is known as Mikulás nap or St. Nicholas Day. In the evening between December 5 and December 6, children polish their shoes and place them on the doorstep to be filled by Mikulás overnight. Usually shoes are filled with chocolate, candy, peanuts and small toys.
The shops are filled with chocolate Mikulás and szaloncukor for you to gift on the day. I didn’t polish my boots, nor did I put them out to be filled, but St. Nick did come for a visit. At work I got a few treats and the night before, at a restaurant, they were handing out some treats as you paid for your dinner:
Those wrapped candies are what Hungarians called szaloncukor. They’re chocolate covered candies in a variety of flavours. They’re slowly growing on me. I’ll definitely be bringing some home with me.
Mikulás usually has a few others with him as he makes is way around. Not elves like the North American Santa, but rather, one is a devil-like figure called krampusz who punishes bad kids. Check out these other weird and interesting Santas from around the world (and see Austria for an image of a krampusz!).
Maybe Mikulás needs a tracker like Santa?