Magyar Magyar

6th December: boots in the windows

On St. Nicholas’ day, they don’t rattle chains any more but windows open for the big-bearded man bearing gifts.

We do not know any other country apart from Hungary where Santa has a factory. In recent years, the Santa Claus Factory has grown into one of the biggest charity events in Hungary. This also shows how important gift-giving on St. Nicholas’s day – which is known in all Christian countries – is to Hungarians. Between 1 and 21 December 2023, the organisers of the Santa Claus Factory are happy to receive non-perishable food, cleaning and hygiene products and sweets as donations. The campaign will also be promoted by the Finnish Santa Claus, Joulupukki, this year: children can meet him on 1 and 6 December in Budapest, at the opening ceremony of the Santa Claus Factory, on 3 December in Sárvár, on 4 December in Bábolna, on 6 December in Szerencs and on 7 December in Szombathely.

Who is Nicholas with chains?

Giving gifts on St. Nicholas’ Day was associated to Bishop St. Nicholas. It was originally an urban custom that spread from the bourgeoisie to the peasantry through mediation by village intellectuals in the 1930s and 1940s. Before this, 6 December was not really a favourite holiday for children. It was a long-standing custom in villages that on St. Nicholas' Day, young men, and even married men, put on fur coats inside out, covered their faces with soot and rattled chains to frighten small children and older girls. These scary people were called “alakoskodók”, and this is where the term Nicholas with chains also comes from.

Télapó doesn’t come anymore

During socialist times, Hungarian poems and children’s songs were written about Télapó (Ded Moroz), but today children look forward to Mikulás (Santa Claus) every year on 6 December. Ded Moroz gave gifts in the Soviet Union. The "socialist" Télapó appeared in Hungary in the 1950s based on his example. His religious references were removed, but a figure who either rewarded or punished children remained.

Kids boots get a good clean once a year for sure

One thing is for certain: children will clean their shoes on 5 December and put them in the window in the evening. This is because in Hungary, unlike in the Anglo-Saxon world, the big-bearded man does not come down the chimney but through the window. Nowadays, it is also becoming common for children to leave biscuits and a glass of milk for him next to the boots and shoes since he comes from far away and he might be hungry and thirsty. Santa Claus brings small toys and sweets to those who behaved well and birch sticks (virgács) to those who behaved badly.

Santa never walks alone

In Hungary, the krampusz (young devil) is closely connected to Santa Claus, and he accompanies the red cloaked man on his gift-giving journey. The name krampusz comes from the German word "krampen", which means claw, and it embodies the devil, who is the symbol of all evil in Christianity. The Hungarian krampusz is much more modest than the devil though, and he doesn’t want to kidnap children but to put them back in line using the birch sticks.