Christmas: Handmade in Hungary
By Bill Lower
Before I dwell into the magic of Christmas here in Hungary, allow me to pass along some online magic. If you have not seen Being Santa, a documentary on playing the role of Santa Claus, I highly recommend it. Think Tim Allen meets Michael Moore. It’s a surprising delight. Children who believe in Santa Claus will watch this movie and come away..believing in Santa...maybe even more so.
Somehow, Christmas here in Hungary feels more organic, more earthy, and while a Christian high holiday, here you can feel its earth-borne pagan roots. And there is no better place to immerse yourself in your new home country’s customs and traditions than visiting the Christmas market at Vorosmarty tér. It has been voted the most authentic Christmas market in Europe and in the three years we have been here, it seems to get better every year, although I do not recall being disappointed in year one.
On one corner of the square a small stage is set up and various performers, from puppeteers to musicians put on a variety of shows, all geared to delighting children of all ages, including mine. Behind it is an enclosed (and semi-heated) workshop where children can go and, under the direction of artisans and artists, make their own hand-made Christmas decorations and gifts.
By the time the Christmas market has opened (it’s open now) the temperature here will likely have dropped and we’ll feel the damp chill of early winter. Depending on where you are from, you might find the chill a little biting. Although the actual temperatures are higher than what one might expect in my home province of Ontario, Canada, it can feel colder. That’s the dampness.
So. Why the weather report? Call it environmental justification for the mulled wine you will find conveniently for sale throughout the market. And then there is the food. This year they have altered the layout for the market and most food stalls are grouped in the center of the square. They keep the wood fires burning and prepare a host of non-dietary Hungarian dishes. (Where do you think flavour comes from? Zucchini? No. As unpleasant as it sounds, flavour comes from the fat, oils and butter. Enjoy. You can always go back to zucchini and eggplant in January and February).
Wander through the stalls there in the Christmas market and you will find the largest concentration of handmade arts, crafts, foods, decorations, clothing and curiosities, Hungarian style, from ceramics, to wrought iron, wood carvings and gingerbread.
Watching the blacksmiths forging wrought iron decorations, tools and ornaments is a treat and a photo favourite of many visitors. Several hints to my wife resulted in a beautiful wrought iron black rose for me under the tree. For my daughter, the market served up a sensational while fur winter hat. For my wife, earrings and a matching hat and scarf, handmade of course. For the house, Christmas decorations, CDs of Hungarian music (no, you won’t find this on iTunes). It’s a great place to people watch, too.
The first year we were here, the market struck us as unusual and at times, strange. Last year, all our Christmas shopping was done at the market. It is our ‘new normal’.
Each year there are more and more Christmas markets opening and this year, the one at St. Stephen’s Basilica is especially delightful if you have children: there is a skating rink in the center of the market. OK, so it’s not real ice but a plastic rink and they rent skates for the kids. The rink looks like ice, it skates like ice but it doesn’t require sub-arctic temperatures to keep it functioning. Sweet.
I am a sucker for Christmas. If you fall into that camp, be prepared not for one, but several visits to the many Christmas markets in Budapest and surrounds. Here, that is part and parcel of the Hungarian Christmas experience. Did I mention they have mulled wine?
[Monday, December 12, 2011 ]