Santa Claus is coming to town- tonight?

You may be surprised at the intensity of "Christmas-fever" in Hungary at the moment. Shops and even makeshift stalls are heaving with chocolate figures of Father Christmas, chocolate bells, bars, stars and gift bags filled with, you guessed it, chocolate. What (or who) is behind this choccy chaos?

The reason is that December 6th, or St. Nicholas Day is almost upon us. This is Mikulás nap in Hungarian, though the traditions associated with it were most probably borrowed from German customs during the Austro-Hungarian times.

Quite differently to traditions in United Kingdom or the USA, Mikulás comes to Hungary on the night of the 5th December, and little girls and boys here know that it is time to clean and polish their boots, for if they place them by the window in the evening, Santa will come in the night and reward the good children with goodies. Today this is synonymous with chocolate, which is why you will see such a plethora of red-coated, white-bearded chocolate figurines almost wherever you look! At office parties and public events, such as at the Christmas Markets on the 5th and 6th of December, you may catch sight of Santa, normally accompanied by a sort of mischievous elf or goblin, known as a Krampusz. This character often holds the 'virgács', which is a bundle of twigs normally painted gold, that represent the punishment for those on the naughty children's list.

 So if all this goes on in early December, what happens on the 24th/25th, you may ask? Well, that is the realm of Jézuska, little Jesus or the Jezus child, and the topic of another feature...

(Photographs courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)