Vargo’s European Christmas Tradition

Written by: Emily Vargo

Kellemes Ünnepeket, or in English, Happy Holidays.

Something that many don’t know is that I am Hungarian-American. Many years ago, my great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother came to the United States from Hungary in hopes of a better life, not only for themselves but for their children and the generations of children to come.

In Hungary, our family’s last name was Varga, but when they came to America, they changed the name to Vargo to fit in and not stick out like a sore thumb. Over the years, traditions of our culture were lost and forgotten, but my father was determined to show me my Hungarian heritage.

December 5 and December 6 is a very exciting time for many people, especially in Europe and those of the Catholic faith. Growing up, I was told that on December 5, you put your shoes out on the windowsill. While you are sleeping, Szent Mikulás, also known as Saint Nicholas in English, comes door-to-door and puts chocolate, small toys, and fruit in your shoes if you were good, but if you were bad, he would put coal, onions, and potatoes in your shoes.

It wasn’t uncommon to find a potato or onion in your shoe besides a bunch of goodies to symbolize that no one is really good all the time. I decided to do some research, and I found some things left out in the childhood stories. Many countries celebrate Saint Nicholas Day in Europe and around the world.

Each country has different traditions, which makes finding information quite difficult because the traditions start blending together, but in reality, each country is different. In some countries, if you were bad, you receive a stick painted in gold paint rapped in a red paper that was put in your shoe with coal. In others, the children had to clean their rooms and polish their shoes before they could be placed on the windowsill.

When I was looking at traditions in Hungary, I found that there are old tails of an evil devil that accompanies Saint Nicholas called Karampuz, who takes away the bad children. I knew growing up that in other countries, especially in Germany, Karampuz was an evil devil, but I had no clue this was a thing in Hungary.

I found out that during the 1800s, late into the night on December 5, men would put coal on their faces and walk down the streets with shackles to scare the women and children. This was eventually banned because too many kids thought they would die, and people saw how terrified this was making the children. When it comes to the holidays, every family celebrates them differently. Everyone has the traditions that make the holidays special to them.

This year my family and I will eat chocolate and fruit on December 6 as our way of celebrating Saint Nickolas day. Then on Christmas Eve, we will eat a traditional Hungarian fish soup called halászlé and many Hungarian baked goods. After dinner, we will then go to the Christmas Eve church service. When we get home, we will watch Mickey Mouse Once Upon a Christmas.

On Christmas day, we will open presents, eat a bunch of food, and watch a bunch of Christmas movies. The Christmas holiday has always been special to me. Especially when it comes to learning about my Hungarian heritage. This holiday season, spend it with those who you love and hold dear.

If you can, take the time to ask questions about your family heritage and cherish the beautiful traditions that your family has created. I hope that everyone has a wonderful and happy holiday, and I hope it is filled with joy and happiness.

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