Christmas is a favourite time of year in Hungary, aside from the religious significance (and Hungary is a pious mostly catholic country) it is also a wonderful time to be together with your nearest and dearest. The run-up to Christmas is in fact a very lively time here and so we have gathered a few traditional and contemporary things to do and see here then.
Christmas Markets and other things
Christmas Markets are well worth a visit. These are great places to wander from stall to stall in search of bargain presents, enjoy some piping hot mulled wine or some funnel cake. There is a large one at Vörösmarty Square, at the end of Váci Street and (yellow) Metro Line number 1. Another notable example is the one spread out in front of St.Stephen's Basilica, which also sports an ice-skating rink, and is leant a rather romantic feel by its majestic basilica backdrop.
These markets are of course, now quite popular across Europe, so here are some other things that you can't really do anywhere else:
Play chess in an outdoor swimming pool – As well as being an archetypal image of Budapest, it's actually a fairly everyday occasion here. The thermal waters of baths, such as the Széchenyi Thermal baths in the capital are just as warm in the wintertime, and the outdoor baths are more than enough to keep you piping hot even in a light snowfall, though this does cover up the chess pieces somewhat.
If you think you are ready than mere soaking, you could try one of the night-time bathing Magic Baths, an extravaganza of lasers, smoke and dance music right in the baths. From November onwards these are held every Saturday at the lovely Lukács Baths, Just north of Margaret Bridge on the Buda side, (on the edge of Elvis Presley square, believe it or not!)
Catch a glimpse of the Christmas Tram. This is one particular tram (on tram line 2 along the pest riverside) which is covered for all of its 40 metres in tiny white fairy lights. There is nothing special about the inside, except the normal phenomenal views along the Danube embankment.
Go skating on the largest outdoor ice rink in Europe. At the edge of the city park, to one side of the Heroes' Square Monument, is the huge City Park Ice Rink (Városligeti Műjégpálya), used as a boating lake in the summer. Bring or rent some skates and enjoy gliding past the scenic Vajdahunyad Castle, a specially-mixed construction featuring Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic and Renaissance elements. From the end of November, it is open every day from 10am-10pm and Costs 1200 HUF per person (1400HUF at weekends.)
Take in a concert. The acoustics at St. Stephen's Basilica are hard to beat, but performances both organ and choral, as well as ballets are performed at many locations around the capital at this time of year.
What Christmas means for most Hungarians
Christmas in Hungary is celebrated in a similar way to the rest of Europe, with a few small differences. The 25th December is a national Holiday, though actually the main Family Christmas meal normally takes place on the evening of the 24th and the foods traditionally eaten then are wine soup, baked fish, poppy seed roll or beigli. It is also on Christmas Eve that presents are given and received. The 25th and subsequent days are used to visit family and friends. Decorating the Christmas tree is absolutely not a group activity as in the USA and UK, though it is still a very special task, which as every small child knows, is carried out by the fairies, miraculously just in time for the Christmas dinner.