Christmas in Hungary — Boldog Karácsonyt!

Early, I know. Hey, Hungarians celebrate Christmas earlier than Americans do anyway, so I figured that it was about time for this post; there’ll probably be another Christmas post in December as well. For now, I just wanted to share a few things that have brought out the Christmas spirit recently — seasonal food, traditional sweets, and Christmas music. 

Although Hungarians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as it’s a strictly American holiday, the Hungarian people still pride themselves on their cuisine of the season. A Christmas market will be open soon, stocked full of all kinds of delicious foodstuffs, but in the meantime, I stopped by Leves to grab a seasonal soup that I’ve never had before.

Leves, for those unaware, means soup. It is also the name of a very small restaurant (only two people work there) that serves soup in large takeout cups. You can also get sandwiches and cookies, but everyone goes for the soups. Every single day, without fail, there is a large queue extending around the block in front of Leves. Their soups are unique and come from all over the world; the selection, pulled from a total of 30-35 soups, changes daily. I love that place. Their facebook page is (https://www.facebook.com/levespont), but don’t panic because it’s in Hungarian — Google Translate does a pretty good job with that page, so try it out. 

Anyway, at any time, you can scroll down the facebook page to the “Hot List” and run it through a translator — those are the daily soups. Pretty impressive, right? I just headed down today to grab myself some kókuszos sütőtökleves, or a seasonal pumpkin soup with coconut. It was by far the best soup I have ever had, even at Leves. I was thoroughly impressed.

It was piping hot when I got it and sprinkled with a huge helping of peanuts on top. The thick orange soup was creamy and speckled with small black dots of spices throughout. It was only vaguely spicy, not overpowering as some paprika dishes from Hungary, and the pumpkin had this very unique, completely un-sweet flavor that was more savory than anything. If someone had handed me that soup without telling me what it was, I would have mistaken it at first for a meat soup; it was really that hearty. But as I continued to eat it, the notion of meatiness melted away and the taste of a simply creamy, delicate and yet bold soup packed with flavor emerged. It’s difficult to describe, but I had no idea that pumpkin could taste that way!

After enjoying my weekly helping of Leves, I returned to the dorm to snack on a Hungarian holiday treat — szaloncukor. They are exclusively Hungarian, exclusively for Christmas, and quite unique. The ones I decided on were orange flavored. 

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They come in a wrapper much larger than I had imagined. Originally, when a Hungarian told me about them, I was expecting something about the size of a cough drop.

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They’re a lot bigger, aren’t they? So what’s inside that glowing packet of golden goodness? Well, it’s one of these:

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It’s somewhat like a Jaffa cake, only without the wafer. So it’s pretty much a gigantic glob of transparent, springy orange jelly coated in a thin layer of chocolate. Unique, but since I like Jaffa cakes, I’m quite a fan of these szaloncukor

*****

The last thing that has brought me into a more Christmas-y mindset is the emergence of some traditional Hungarian Christmas music, which Kata taught us the words to. There are two songs, one more Christian-based and the other about Mikulas, who is almost the equivalent of Saint Nicholas. The first song, which children really enjoy singing, follows the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and is called Hull a Pelyhes, or Flaky Snow. It is about Mikulas, who was at that time called “Father Winter” because of the communist prohibition against singing about saints (Saint Nicholas). Remember that in Hungary, Mikulas fills shoes, not stockings!

Hull a pelyhes fehér hó, jöjj el kedves Télapó!
Minden gyermek várva vár, vidám ének hangja száll. 
Van zsákodban minden jó, piros alma, mogyoró, 
Jöjj el hozzánk, várunk rád, kedves öreg Télapó.

Nagy szakállú Télapó jó gyermek barátja.
Cukrot,diót, mogyorót rejteget a zsákja. 
Amerre jár reggelig kis cipőcske megtelik,
megtölti a Télapó, ha üresen látja!

[The white, flaky snow is falling.
Come, Father Winter,
Every child is waiting for you.
A happy song’s voice is in the air.
There is everything good in your bag,
Red apples, hazelnuts.
Come to us, we are waiting for you
Nice old Father Winter.

Long-bearded Mikulas
Is a friend of the good child.
Crackling walnuts and hazelnuts
Are hidden by his bag.
The way he goes until the morning, 
The little shoes get filled;
He fills them
If he sees them empty.]

Listen to it here, starting at about 00:55: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZCYQvvvMI8)

*****

The second song — the more Christian one — has an unfamiliar tune and is called Mennyből az Angyal, or An Angel from Heaven:

Mennyből az angyal lejött hozzátok, 
Pásztorok, pásztorok,
Hogy Betlehembe sietve menvén
Lássátok, lássátok.

Istennek fia, aki született 
Jászolban, jászolban,
Ő lészen néktek üdvözítőtök
Valóban, valóban.

Mellette vagyon az édesanyja,
Mária, Mária,
Barmok közt fekszik, jászolban nyugszik
Szent fia, szent fia.

El is menének köszöntésére
Azonnal, azonnal,
Szép ajándékot vivén szívükben
Magukkal, magukkal.

A kis Jézuskát egyelőképpen 
Imádják, imádják,
A nagy Úristent ilyen nagy jóért
Mind áldják, mind áldják.

[From heaven the angel
Came down to you,
Shepherds, shepherds,
So that to Bethlehem,
Hurriedly going,
You should see, you should see.

The son of God
Who was born
In a manger, in a manger —
He will be for you
A savior,
Surely, surely.]

Listen to this one here, performed by Feke Pál: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KKLRdanFLY).

*****

At the moment, that’s all I have to say about Christmas. So for now, merry early Christmas, or boldog karácsonyt!

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