If you have ever been to Hungary in early December, you may have noticed the profusion of little chocolate models of Father Christmas or Mikulás all over the country In Hungary, these will be especially popular before December 6th, the day of St Nicholas/Mikulás. This is when Santa comes to visit Hungary, leaving gifts and sweet treats for good boys and girls.
Traditional differences: Mikulás and Father Christmas
The Hungarian version of Father Christmas is Hungary’s archetypal image of the festive season. He is called Mikulás and is quite similar to St Nicholas, the original figure for Father Christmas. Here however, he comes to visit on the evening of 5 December, bringing chocolates, fruits, sweets and small gifts to good children who take good care of their things. Boots and shoes must be cleaned, polished and put out (normally on the windowsill) for him to inspect. In fact the sweets and gift are normally left IN the boots. As December 6th approaches, you may note an eruption of chocolate mini-santas in sweetshops, supermarkets and of course, at the Christmas markets. These chocolate figures will be of variable quality, but if you stick to brand-name chocolates you generally can’t go wrong.
At other times during this season, when Father Christmas makes a personal appearance (for example at malls, schools or office family parties), he normally appears as an old man in the robes of a bishop, accompanied by one or more mischievous elves known as Krampusz. Children are often rounded up by the elves and may have to sing a song in order to receive a little present.
The Hungarian word “Mikulás” is of Czech origin and the custom of giving presents to each other spread in Hungarian families as a result of Austrian influence. However, Hungarian folk customs have by now changed as a result of globalisation; while the Mikulás of the interwar period lived in Heaven and saw over children from above, in today’s consumer society the belief is more and more widespread that Mikulás lives in Lappland and travels on a sleigh drawn by reindeers, while his helpers are generally left out of stories.