Eagerly anticipated customs surround the approach of Christmas in Hungary, including candle-lighting ceremonies, jolly fairs, and chocolate-filled calendars – and all of these traditions are on display during the holiday season in Budapest. The Advent celebrations begin on the fourth Sunday before Christmas to bring families together with festive rituals that date back centuries, along with modern-day amusements and grand-scale jamborees that fill this holy countdown with soul-stirring merrymaking.
Once upon a time, the annual arrival of Advent in Europe was not the joyful occasion that it is today – the roots of this observance originate from the Dark Ages, but back then the Advent celebrations lasted for 40 days, and were accompanied by stringent fasting and solemn holy ceremonies held at the crack of dawn; during this period of anticipation for Christ’s birthday, the church banned all raucous gatherings.
Fortunately, Advent festivities do not involve intense abstaining anymore – nowadays the celebrations begin when families gather on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day to create an elaborate Advent wreath of pine branches and ribbons topped by four candles, which serves as the primary icon for this period of spirited anticipation. The candles generally bear refined hues of purple and pink (although present-day wreaths are often styled with more creative decorations), and on every Sunday leading up to Yuletide, a fresh candle is lit to represent the passing weeks. The noble purple-colored candles characterize penance, while the sparking of the wreath’s single pink candle on Advent’s third Sunday embodies joy. After the fourth candle is lit on the final Sunday before Christmas, the brilliant illumination epitomizes the light that surrounds the birth of Christ, while each of the flickering candles bears a distinct meaning like faith, hope, joy, and love.
Along with the religious rituals, other pleasant traditions emerged around this spiritual ceremony over the years, including the chocolate-packed Advent calendar. Dating back to the early 1900s, the Advent calendar was invented by a German mother who tried to ease her son’s restless days of waiting for Christmas by dividing some cardboard into 24 days, with tiny chocolate bites attached to each piece, allowing the child to take one piece every day until Christmas Eve. For many children in Hungary, this playful countdown is a daily source of joy through most of December, and loads of sweet calendars are available here at the city’s Christmas fairs and at most supermarkets, providing daily pleasures for kids from December 1st to the 24th.
Along with these family-centered Advent celebrations, the season is honored with festive grand-scale gatherings amid numerous cinnamon-scented locales in Budapest, as glorious Advent fairs provide merry moments for city dwellers. The holiday spirit comes alive beginning today at the Advent Feast in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, featuring luscious local treats and artistic handicrafts, while a miniature ice-skating rink provides active winter fun for anyone who is young at heart. One of Budapest’s most elegant shopping lanes also transforms into a bright festive fair, presenting quaint wooden stalls during the Fashion Street Advent market near lively Erzsébet Square, while on November 29th a new addition to Budapest’s festive scene welcomes everyone for Advent Sundays within Várkert Bazaar’s premises on the hillside of Buda Castle, highlighting a gigantic candle installation created by the Hello Wood design studio.
The Advent season is also a time for varied merry concerts to infuse a festive spirit into many of Budapest’s cultural hotspots: on December 9th at 8pm, internationally renowned Magyar songstress Kati Wolf performs soaring sounds of the holiday season within the hallowed space of St. Stephen’s Basilica, and on December 14th at
classic Christmastime melodies resound in the Palace of Arts, including Schubert’s Ave Maria and morsels of timeless opera pieces.
What’s more, the city’s biggest Christmas fair at Vörösmarty Square features outdoor concerts every day during the Advent season, welcoming everyone to revel in jolly tunes for no charge.Finally, for those who want to indulge in the holiday spirit with graceful feasting, several of the city’s deluxe restaurants offer Advent brunches every Sunday leading up to Christmas – learn more about them in our upcoming article recommending tasteful Advent brunch locales.