How Hungary Celebrates St Nicholas Day (aka Mikulás Nap): Tangerines in Boots and Krampusz with Whips!

St Nicholas Day Hungary

In this blog post we're to be talking about Mikulás Nap in Hungary - what it is, when it is and my personal experiences with it in Hungary. Mikulás Nap translates to Nicholas Day (sort of... 'Nicholas' is 'Miklós', which is where the name Mikulás is derived from... Mikulás is very specifically the name of Saint Nicholas as Father Winter in this Hungarian tradition). It occurs on the 6th December every year and, in my humble opinion, it is a grand tradition.  I am from the UK, so the first time I heard about the existence of St Nicholas Day (as a general thing) was during German class when I was 14 - our teacher, in a sweet attempt to create a German immersive experience, made a big deal about putting some chocolates in a boot outside of our classroom door.

My Introduction to Hungarian Mikulas Day

When I first came to Hungary, it was my Hungarian teacher Zsuzsi who first introduced me to the Hungarian version of St Nicholas Day, and taught me that it's called Mikulás Nap in Hungarian. She too created a fun interactive experience. I assumed it would be very similar if not identical to sweet boot-loving German St Nicholas Day, and in some ways it is, but in other ways, Hungarians take it to a whole new level. This whole new level, which will be revealed very shortly, is why Mikulás Nap is one of my favourite things about Hungary. In this blog post we're going to talk about Mikulás Nap and his chains and whips, and because we might as well, we're going to touch on Hungarian Christmas traditions too - exploring another Hungarian favourite of mine - present bringing Baby Jesus.

What Is Mikulás Nap or St. Nicholas Day In Hungary?

St Nicholas is the patron saint of children (among other things). His legend of gift-giving is where Father Christmas / Santa Claus / Saint Nick apparently comes from. In many countries in Europe, like Hungary, Germany and the Netherlands, children receive gifts on the 6th December - St Nicholas Day. These presents are often left in their boots, which children often leave on the windowsills or near the entrance door the night before. The gifts are traditionally tangerines and peanuts and it's Mikulás himself who leaves these gifts. Mikulás is the Hungarian name for Father Christmas, but he also has another name - Télapó, literally "Winter Father" - a name brought in by the Soviets as it sounded 'less Christian'. Mikulás / Télapó comes to the school and is told by the teacher who is naughty and who is nice, he then discusses this with the children (e.g. "Tom, stop picking on Moon", "Moon you've been so good this year").

How Does Hungarian Mikulás Nap differ?

So far it's all sounding very similar to German St Nicholas Day (in my limited experience). But this is where it differs and this is what I find super fun: Mikulás is accompanied by one or two 'Krampusz' elves (the 2015 horror film Krampus is based on this mythical character): two normal, evil helpers who have a special whip to hit the bad children with (!?) I spoke to some of my Hungarian friends about this - some say it's two evil Krampus elves, others said one is evil and one is good, and one person even said that the Krampus can be sexy? Lol. The mystery deepens.There are also chains to drag the children back (to hell?) with, though I have been assured that these are nowadays more ornamental than functional.

A Quick Guide to Hungarian Christmas

On Christmas Eve, 24th December, 'Jézuska' (that's Baby Jesus, not Santa) brings more presents... according to some other other Hungarians, it's the 'Angyalka' (a 'Little Angel'). Hungarians open their presents on Christmas Eve. Below I will go into my own experiences in Hungary as a foreigner, but first let's look at how Hungarian Christmas differs to German and British traditions:

Differences Between Hungarian and German Christmas

Like the Hungarians, Germans also get special boot chocolate on the 6th December. And like the Hungarians, Germans also receive and open their gifts on the 24th December. But in Germany Krampus doesn't come around on the 6th December (although I'm pretty sure Krampus comes from Germany, or at the very least Austria). And the presents Germans receive on Christmas Eve are from Father Christmas, not Baby Jesus. Germans also call Father Christmas 'Weihnachtsmann' (literally 'Christmas man').

Differences Between Hungarian and British Christmas

First things first, British people don't celebrate St Nicholas Day at all - nothing particularly special happens on the 6th and no one gets presents. We definitely don't get presents in our boots (though maybe there's a boot to stocking connection)?. On the 24th December Father Christmas (not baby Jesus) leaves presents in children's stockings but they're not allowed to be opened until Christmas morning (hence Bart Simpson and the whole drinking water at night thing so he can wake up early in the morning). Being naughty and nice is still a big deal to British Father Christmas - but all that happens if you're naughty is you get zero presents (maybe some coal), there are no whips involved. Personally, I think we've been missing out, and I hereby announce my campaign to bring whips and tangerines in boots to the poor culture-starved Brits.

We don't have Krampus at all (again and absolute loss), but we do have the American film Krampus, which is one of my favourite Christmas films ever  (above is a trailer in case anyone is interested :)

My Personal Hungarian Christmas Experiences

I feel lucky that I have been invited to and experienced two Hungarian Christmases (I've actually spent four Christmases in Hungary, but the first one was spent with a German in Budapest and the second one was spent with a Hungarian who denounced Christmas in Esztergom, so despite them geographically being Christmases in Hungary, I don't think they count as Hungarian Christmases, both times we just got drunk and watched Elf - aka another British tradition). So about my actual Hungarian Christmases: on Christmas Eve there were lots of yummy treats to be eaten, my favourite being 'hókifli' ('snow roll'), I love the taste, of course, and I chuckle at 'hó' (which means 'snow') every time I hear it, which is more and more as I drink more and more and say it over and over; we decorated a Christmas tree; we watched the Grinch (another Anglophile tradition, sorry); we drank a lot of good quality wine and palinka and all in all it was similar to English Christmas, but far less stress and held on Christmas Eve. My bf also made vegan stuffed cabbage ('töltött káposzta') which is apparently a traditional Hungarian Xmas meal (not the vegan version but hey you gotta innovate ;)

Wrap Up: How Hungary Celebrates St Nicholas Day

We are super excited to spend Christmas in Hungary this year. It's really cool to learn about different traditions, and I like how they are similar in some ways and completely different in other ways. What are your favourite Christmas traditions?

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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