The Christmas Museum and Shop in Szentendre represents the old Christmas atmosphere in the familiar streets of this small town. “People come to Szentendre to stroll, to eat, to enjoy the air, the banks of the Danube,” says Éva Hubay, who thought up and realized this museum. The Hubay House, open all year round, aims to let visitors experience a festive atmosphere and the magic of Christmas. Although, among the most impressive Christmas decorations, you can find pigs with masks in the store, the visitors like the traditional ornaments the most. We talked about the museum, old Hungarian Christmas traditions, and both the unusual and traditional Christmas tree decorations. Interview.
Original interview by Borbála Verseghi-Nagy/Ungarn Heute. Translation by Eszter Grifatong.
In the attic, you found trifles belonging to your great-grandmother, which sparked your love of Christmas tree decorations. Do you remember what kind of ornaments they were?
A little silver bell and an angel.
And this is when you began collecting Christmas tree decorations?
You come from a family from Upper Hungary. What were your family’s Christmas habits?
At Christmas, fish and pork dishes were always on the table, stuffed cabbage (töltött káposzta) was a must-have. Poultry was not allowed to be eaten, as it was said that otherwise our luck would be crushed. Also, an extra place setting was always put on the table in case someone else joined us. We always put some money under the tablecloth, but I didn’t understand exactly why. The leftovers were put aside and given to the animals at midnight.
Are the holidays in Hungary different nowadays than in your childhood days?
In general, the same habits can be seen. For example, it has been maintained that on the 24th you don’t take out the garbage, you don’t hang up the laundry, and you don’t wash clothes….
We are in Szentendre, where the Christmas Museum was opened 11 years ago. Why here of all places?
Because it is a familiar small town, near Budapest. Many people come here to visit. In Szentendre you usually find multicultural inhabitants. There are 5 different churches, 5 different religions, all which are still active today. Last but not least, the see of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s eparchy can be found here.
FactWith the creation of the Hubay House and a Christmas salon, Éva Hubay and her family’s idea became a reality. During the Advent season of 2010, a store opened its doors in the picturesque atmosphere of downtown Szentendre. More than 5,000 pieces of special Christmas decorations from private collections are offered for sale here. Christmas decorations made with different techniques and related to the holidays, along with greeting cards, all representing the history of the last 200 years.
There is not much competition on this market, but one Christmas house is much larger: the house in Gödöllő is 300 square meters and consists of 9 rooms. Are you planning to expand?
We are not planning to expand. This is an original old house that we renovated. We don’t want to be bigger than a family house, since this way we can retain its homely atmosphere. We can bring and give back the atmosphere found in Christmases of old to our visitors.
Historically older Christmas decorations are the primary items displayed here. The newer pieces are also displayed in a traditional environment. We have also designed photo corners where visitors can sit among decorated Christmas trees to take photos. The atmosphere is more festive than a simple store. People come to Szentendre to stroll, to eat, to enjoy the air, the banks of the Danube. Our goal is to make those who visit us feel at home.
You are also open in the summer. Who might get the idea to buy Christmas decorations in the summer?
Those who simply come to visit Szentendre. We have an incredible number of visitors from abroad in the summer. Many come from Australia, New Zealand, Canada. We also have many Israeli guests. Many young people come over to bring their grandmothers a classic Christmas ornament, a bell or a ball. And they do that every season.
And many buy their souvenirs here, regardless of the season. Young couples have met for a date in Szentendre. Later, after their wedding, they often come back, either with their young children or expecting a baby, and buy their first bauble with the child’s first Christmas written on it.
Where does the jewelry in the collection come from?
There is jewelry that I buy at an auction, or I find something in the bulk of throwaways, or in an abandoned attic. Acquaintances also let me know if they would like to offer a Christmas decoration to the museum. My son is in Germany at the moment, and he found some old boxes of ornaments in an attic. He collects these, sorts them, and brings them home.
This is how I replenish the stock, because visitors regularly take something with them. This is how there are now two fewer classic Hungarian pieces in the store. You can see that people love this old jewelry. (laughs)
Typical old Hungarian motifs are soda bottles, Unicum bottles, and the so-called Csongor cigar.
Csongor is a Hungarian cigar brand. After 1948, the Csongor cigar was produced in Un-garn, probably in Eger. The Csongor was made with an inner paper wrapper, so it was not a real cigar, but it appeared as if a cigarette was wrapped in tobacco leaves. The brand survived until the later decades. After its disappearance, the Újfehértó cigar factory made another attempt to revive it. Although the packaging, as well as the contents, were made in a design that met the expectations of the time, it was not a success. Source: dohanymuzeum.hu
Until today, Hungarian Christmas decorations are made in Upper Hungary. From there, we bring many beautiful hand-painted glass baubles. We also have a self-designed collection, hand-painted in the Czech Republic on the templates of old embroidery motifs. These are also in line with Hungarian taste and are very popular with foreigners because they recognize the characteristic Hungarian colors and shapes on the snow-white baubles.
A hundred years ago, peoples’ interests in what they liked to hang on their trees varied greatly from country to country. Today, one encounters globalization even at Christmas time. For example, Scandinavian elves have a strong presence on the Hungarian market. Does this put the “Hungarian Christmas” in danger?
In my opinion, Hungarian Christmas habits are not in danger at all. On the one hand, the number of people who buy these Scandinavian elves is not very large. On the other hand, the change and development of Christmas customs and decorations is a normal process. However, 80% of us still look for the classic, red and gold ornaments and Christmas baubles. These grinches and elves are bought just for pleasure.
The intimacy comes from the Christmas ornaments hanging on the tree, which gives back its sparkle to the room. With baubles of different brightness and colors reflecting the lights in the room, a Christmas tree becomes admirable. We see ourselves in the baubles, in fact we reflect ourselves in them.
This mysterious atmosphere of a Christmas tree is difficult for a Grinch to create.
You also sell masked piggies as Christmas tree decorations. How do customers like those? Don’t they spoil the Christmas atmosphere? Is there really a demand for them after the epidemic has been dominating our lives for almost 2 years?
The colors, shapes and patterns of Christmas decorations have always followed the current trend.
I hope we are lucky and this little pig will soon be no more than a reminder of this pandemic. Basically, a piggy brings us luck. They say it digs up happiness. Not to mention that pork has historically been a significant source of food for us Hungarians. In the past, winters were very hard. In the winter months, everyone had to take care of their own survival.
Today the world is different, but there are many customs that have been kept alive for Christmas night and many of them are connected with the pig.
Every year a 5-day Christmas exhibition in Frankfurt determines what is currently trendy. What is the trend this year?
I can describe this year’s trend quite accurately on a Christmas tree top. It has a deep salmon brown color combined with blue and there are little stars on it. There is a light, a color gradient, but this color is very difficult to determine. In my opinion, however, the hue is not the important thing, but rather that the ornament shines.
What will your Christmas tree be like this year?
My Christmas tree will be just the way my grandchildren decide to decorate it. For me, this is the most beautiful tree, no matter what is hung up on it, whether its ornaments are molded crafts or little children’s drawings. I feel the most comfortable under this Christmas tree because it is decorated with love.
Photos by Attila Lambert/Hungary Today