Winter is the most exciting, most enchanting of the seasons and I look forward to it year by year. The sparkling white snow makes even the dullest and plainest neighborhood spectacular and beautiful to look at, besides the captivating Castle area or Heroes Square in Budapest, covered with snow. Nothing can compare to the atmosphere before Christmas in Budapest. The city is illuminated by Christmas lights, and those famous Christmas markets are there to be enjoyed, not to mention the typical Christmas meals that attract people visiting Hungary during this festive season.
Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year, made even more magical by the chance to spend some quality time with the family. I have tons of sweet memories of my childhood. Hungarians celebrate Christmas with many traditions. When I was a child, the whole family gathered at my grandparents’ flat to celebrate Christmas together. My grandmother and my grandfather spent hours and hours in the kitchen cooking and baking the Christmas menu and never complained about it. They were happy to do this for us.
Hungarian Christmas food
We, Hungarians love to eat, and never more so than during Christmas time. The Christmas dinner is the cherry on the cake to all Hungarian families when it comes to the three-day holiday. Despite having grown up in a family where fish dishes were not too popular, when I was a child, we had fish soup made of several types of fish, and fried fish with potato salad for dinner on Christmas Eve. As Hungary is a landlocked country, which means there is no sea at all, these dishes were made of freshwater fish. Ever since my Cuban husband prepares the mouth-watering dinner at Christmas Eve, we always eat dishes made of sea fish.
The next day we usually ate stuffed cabbage made by my mom. The secret lies in the tasty sour cabbage, the smoked products and the pork. Non-Hungarians find this meal a little bit heavy. I remember how many times I ate it cold straight from the casserole in the fridge at dawn after a party. It helped prevent hangover. 🙂 My other favorite Christmas food is the stuffed roast turkey with different side dishes. I love the prunes stuffing in red wine. 😉
My husband’s favorite Christmas food is the traditional Hungarian pastry, the famous poppy seed or walnut rolls, which is mostly eaten during the winter holidays. It is basically a sweet bread, known as “bejgli” in Hungary. During the last few decades other variants, such as chestnut, plum jam, prune etc., have become popular, too. Unfortunately I have never made bejgli in my life. My grandma was a specialist in baking bejgli, and Gerbeaud’s Cake too. It is a marvelous, delicious homemade layered cake, filled with walnut and apricot jam and then covered with chocolate. She made it twice a year, at Christmas and at Easter.
In Hungary the Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas Eve and must not be stripped until after Twelfth Night, January 6. Hungarian tree decorations are a matter of personal taste and fashion trends. Many favor glittering glass baubles, others hang chocolate figures from the branches, some like straw and paper adornments, while those with a sense of tradition prefer folksy trimmings – shiny, rosy-cheeked apples, gilded walnuts, and snow-white garlands of popcorn. One thing every tree has, of course, is candles. In my childhood we used the traditional wax kind, today we have the modern electrical ones. In addition to the usual decorations, Hungarians also put fondant candies aka “szaloncukor” on and/or under the tree. A genuine Hungarian Christmas tree would be incomplete without szaloncukor. 🙂
Christmas treats 🙂
“Szaloncukor”, the Hungarian Christmas candy is a typical Christmas tree decoration hung on with strings or small metal hooks. It is a type of sweets, usually made of fondant, covered by chocolate and used to be wrapped in white tissue paper with fringed ends and then in shiny aluminum foil, which glimmers in a multitude of colors. When I was a child, these fondant candies came in a few flavors like vanilla (I didn’t like it) and strawberry (that was my favorite :)). Now there is a wide range of variety of different kinds of candies, including jelly, coconut, almond, cherry, hazelnut and lots of other flavors and wrapped not in tissue paper rather in aluminum foil with fringed ends and a design printed on it. I remember my granny always ate most of the Christmas candies hanging on the tree during the night before Christmas and left the empty candy paper on the tree. 🙂 Although the paper wrappers of those Christmas candy looked perfectly intact, you were lucky to find anything left in them to eat. I know that the ability to remove the tempting confectionery from its wrapper without leaving any sign of tampering or damaging the aluminum foil was a special skill of her. 🙂 But she left the strawberry ones for me…