There’s nothing quite like visiting a European Christmas Market. A true highlight of the season. Christmas in Hungary just isn’t complete without at least a few visits down to the historic center of your town for a stroll through the streets, taking in all the festive sights, sounds, and delights.
We visited the Christmas Market several times, making the most of the opportunity during these colder, quieter months of winter. Sometimes we’d go with friends, or just on our own too. Due to the frigid temperatures, each outing required an elaborate routine of bundling the kids up from head to toe and getting them situated in their enormous double-stroller, complete with blankets piled on top. All we would have needed was a small horse to pull it, and we may just have qualified as a legitimate horse and sleigh.
Anticipation would grow as we wondered through the cold side streets, seeing more and more Christmas lights and decorations wrapped around trees, statues, and draped across storefronts built into centuries-old buildings. We were always accompanied by the hushed voices and soft footsteps of other eager Christmas Market-goers as well.
Once we all finally tumbled out into the city square, we are simply awash in the soft glow and warmth, sweet smells, and gentle laughter. Hungarians are a typically quiet culture, so despite there being even hundreds of people milling around, it’s still quite peaceful and not terribly overwhelming with small kids. I have almost always preferred to avoid large crowds, but in Hungary, it’s just a different experience all together.
Along the sides of the square and up and down the streets there were simple wooden structures built, like tiny log cabins all in a row. Each one inhabited by a local craftsman or artisan offering up their wares. We let the children pick out one small toy to take home: Margot, a handmade purple horse made of cloth, and Cassian, a similarly designed flannel dinosaur. A fun, new tradition for them- picking out a toy each year in the Christmas Market!
The town center is gorgeously decorated, with an enormous Christmas tree decked all in gold ornaments and soft glowing lights. The old mosque was lit by a projector, displaying elaborate Christmas themed patterns and designs.
At the very center of the city square, there are steps that lead up to a statue with a beautiful oversized Advent wreath lying at its feet. Margot explored all around it, enjoying the lights and the elevated viewpoint of the town square.
Near the giant Christmas tree and Advent wreath there’s also a quiet, but detailed Nativity scene. It’s truly one of my favourite depictions I’ve ever seen. Warmly coloured and with wooden textures. Something about it is just inviting and familiar feeling. The faces are so full of emotion. Margot was quite in awe as well as we stood for awhile and I pointed out each person to her, the Christ Child and the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the others. I hoped that it was helping to solidify the stories we have been reading and meditating on during these weeks of Advent, waiting for Christ’s arrival.
Beyond the Nativity and festive decorations, there are so many treats and delights to choose between. One stand had a colourful array of candies and nostalgic, old fashioned sweets from this part of the world. We had fun picking out a few to try during one of our visits to the Christmas Market.
One absolutely essential Hungarian confection though is Kürtőskalács, one of my all time favourite treats. It’s prepared by wrapping a strip of sweet dough around a wooden baking spit, which is then basted in butter and rolled in sugar, and slowly spun over an open fire. Once the surface has cooked and transformed into a golden-brown colour and the sugar caramelises into a crispy, shiny crust, it is finally ready to be enjoyed.
Completely worth the wait, Kürtőskalács can then have additional toppings as well, nuts, spices, or coconut flakes and such. Our favourite flavours are vanilla or cinnamon-sugar. The Kürtőskalács is then handed to you, a hot spiral of cake, hollowed out in the center with steam pouring out the top, the delicious smell making it irresistible to devour whole. It’s truly such a special treat, we simply must get one every time we head down to the Christmas Market, tearing off pieces and handing them to each other as we stroll around.
Another essential European tradition is buying warmed, spiced wine. Great vats of steaming, crimson coloured wine sit in a row, in varieties of flavour, the sellers ladling out cups to an endless line of eager customers. There’s nothing quite like walking around, cup of spiced wine clasped in hand, warming your fingertips as you circle around the Christmas Marketplace, strolling by the sellers’ handcrafted wares or pausing to warm the rest of yourself by the fires in the square.
Hungary has some simply lovely Christmas traditions and festivities to participate in, and I was so thankful to be back this year to join in the celebrations after a year away. I so wish that I could invite many of you along with us, but writing about it is the best I can do until some of you come for a visit one day. I hope you enjoyed this piece!