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Christmas

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

What We Did for our First Christmas in Budapest

December 26, 2017
Family Christmas in Budapest

Today is December 26th and still an official holiday here in Budapest. Sadly, my parents flew back home to Toronto this morning. However, my sister and her husband are still here – woo hoo! Andrew and I are at home today and getting organized to move to our new apartment. It’s been a great couple of days, so I thought I would share what we did for our first Christmas in Budapest.

Hungarian Traditions

Christmas is celebrated a little differently here in Hungary compared to the typical Christmas in Canada.  Santa or “Mikulas” visits on December 6th and leaves chocolates and small presents in your boots.  Mikulas serves a similar purpose as the Western Santa Claus in that he keeps track of the good and bad deeds of children all over the world. This tradition is why you don’t see “Mall Santas” here at Christmas.  No photo op with Santa to be found (much to my husband’s distain).

Christmas Tree

Decadently decorated trees at the Gresham Palace Hotel – but few Santas to be found.

Christmas Eve is when families get together. It’s when the adults set up and decorate the Christmas tree and place the larger gifts underneath.  Even in Canada as a child, I had to wait until a heard a bell ring to tell me that the angels (or Baby Jesus) brought the tree and the gifts for me. There is much more of an emphasis on advent and other Christian traditions.

In case you were wondering, the angels brought us a new flatscreen TV 😉

Our Family Christmas Eve

To celebrate our first Christmas in Budapest, I was lucky enough to have my family here from Toronto.  My mother, father, sister and brother-in-law made the journey arriving in the days before. In addition to my immediate family, we also hosted my Aunt (a Budapest resident) and our friend, Wes, from the travel blog, Feather and the Wind.

We decided to celebrate at my parent’s rented apartment so they didn’t have to be the ones to travel.  Like every city, its hard to get a taxi on Christmas Eve.

The Food

Rather than trying to sort out the pots and pans at an AirBnb, we decided to order dinner from one of our favourite downtown restaurants, Kiosk.  Early on December 24th, Andrew and I hopped on the Number 2 tram and went to pick up one whole turkey, one whole duck and all the holiday fixings.  The food was delicious.  I would highly recommend their services for the future.

We ate my mother’s deviled eggs and cabbage rolls as starters.  We ate tons of turkey and duck. We finished off our casual night with a shot of palinka and my Aunt’s traditional (and homemade) chestnut cake for dessert. A very happy and full bunch indeed!

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day

Christmas Day in Budapest was GORGEOUS.  Full sun and twelve degrees.  We’ve had Christmases in Florida with similar weather! We wanted to have a family brunch at the Gundel Restaurant. The Gundel is located just beside City Park. Gundel is the restaurant where you can find traditional Hungarian dishes based on original recipes, served in an exceptional ambiance. For those of you reading from Toronto, it is a similar experience as going to the Old Mill for Christmas Lunch.

It was a fabulous day and I was so happy to be able to spend it with my family here in Budapest, Hungary.  Missed were my step-children who celebrated Christmas in Haliburton, Ontario and Calgary, Alberta respectively. Fingers crossed to seeing them here for the holidays sometime soon.

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

How to Find the True Meaning of Christmas This Year in Budapest

December 23, 2017
Christmas Angel Budapest

As you saw in my last post, Budapest is an absolutely beautiful place to spend Christmas.  This Christmas I am even luckier as my parents, sister and her husband have all come from Canada to share it with us here.  However, Andrew and I wanted to do more then just simply over-indulge, and set out on a tiny journey on how to find the true meaning of Christmas this year.

My husband and I enjoy volunteering. We typically spend around 1000 hours per year donating our time to various organizations and events.  This Christmas in Budapest, we were offered the opportunity to sponsor a local child and help make his Christmas wishes come true. Thanks to Chris Clarke of Clarke and White, we became part of the “Scottish Mission’s Children’s Christmas Event”.

Scottish Mission Christmas

Rev. Aaron C. Stevens, Minister at the Scottish Mission and Chris Clarke of Clarke and White.

Three years ago, a few “Elves” came up with the idea of making dreams come true for Christmas. However, many children from in and around Budapest are not so fortunate, and can’t always get a present. Their parents simply can’t afford to buy any. This is why the children are asked to send a letter to Santa, and wait to see if “Santa” can reply.

Letters to Santa

As part of the letter, each child is asked some simple questions: “What is your favourite colour”, “Who is your best friend”, and of course, “What do you want for Christmas”. This year the Scottish Mission of Budapest  is the main channel of selecting the children.  They decided that an organization called “Kontúr Egyesület“, from the 10th district of Budapest would be where the recipient children came from.  This is pretty much a slum area of Budapest with very poor facilities meant to be torn down in the near future.

Andrew and I received our “Letter for Santa” from a 3 year old boy named, Krisztof. And my mother (being here for Christmas), kindly agreed to sponsor a 4 year old girl named, Hanna.  Off we went in search of the perfect gifts with a set price limit of only 10,000 HUF (about $50 CDN). It was tempting to spend more, but all the kids gifts were meant to be relatively equal.  Once we found them, we wrapped them and delivered them to Clarke and White’s offices. Chris and his assistants took on the gargantuan task of organizing and moving 100+ gifts to the St. Columba’s Scottish Church in time for event day.

Scottish Mission Christmas

The letter we received written to “Santa” telling us all about Krisztof and his wishes for Christmas.

Scottish Mission’s Children’s Christmas Event

The event was well attended by the local and expat community who donated their time, expertise and gifts.  We sat in the back of the hall and let the excitement of the afternoon focus on the children.  We watched a sweet performance of the Nativity play and listened to Hungarian carols. Once concluded, there was more music, magic, food, fun and of course, Santa.

Scottish Mission Christmas

All the “Santas” waiting for the children to arrive –  including the British Ambassador, Iain Lindsay and his wife. Amazing support for our community!

Andrew and I were lucky enough to see our “child”, Krisztof, with his gift. We spotted him because we recognized the wrapping paper we used!  He attended the event with two other siblings who also appeared to be sponsored that afternoon.  We saw his mother packaging up the unopened gifts with string to take them home. I presume to open officially on Christmas Eve as is the custom here in Hungary.

The Scottish Mission

The congregation belongs to the Church of Scotland and the Reformed Church in Hungary.   The church was founded by Scots 175 years ago. However, it was only with the cooperation, support and service of Hungarians that they survived many turbulent periods, including times when Scots were not allowed to remain but the congregation continued just the same.

Happy Christmas Everyone

I love Christmas, and seeing so many happy faces makes it even more meaningful this Christmas.  It was so easy for us to take part in this event. Thanks again to Chris Clarke for letting us be part of it.

Scottish Mission Christmas

Andrew and I waiting for the children to arrive!

As you all know, similar events take place in every city in the world, and I encourage you to be part of them.  Find the true meaning of Christmas and make a difference in your local community.  Your heart will thank you.

Moving Abroad, Personal Stories

Exploring the Christmas Markets in Budapest

December 19, 2017
Christmas Market Budapest

This past week has been crazy busy with organizing our new life, but when we take a break, we head out to go exploring the Christmas markets in Budapest. Luckily, there are several of them spread out around the city – both big and small.

The main Christmas markets are located on the “Pest” side of Budapest. One of these is located at Vörösmarty Square .  This includes lights, music, amazing food and drink stands, artists boutiques and other handcrafted goods.  All vendors are specially chosen for the high quality of their goods – and they are wonderful. There is a stage for live performances and Christmas lights are projected onto the facade of the iconic Café Gerbeaud. Established in 1858, Gerbeaud is Europe’s finest coffee house and pastry shop.

This Christmas market has been voted one of the Top 10 in all of Europe. To see some other great Christmas markets, click here.

Christmas Market Budapest

Vörösmarty Christmas Market at night. Our view from the St. Andrea Skybar looking at Gerbeaud.

Another huge tourist draw is the Christmas market located at St. Stephen’s Basilica.  This market features a spectacular 3D visual show projected on the front of the Basilica a few times every night. Andrew and I just LOVE watching it.  I’m sure he’s trying to figure out how he could do it himself at home for next Christmas 😉

In addition to the market booths, there is also a small skating rink for children under the huge Christmas tree located in the middle of the market. The sights, sounds and smells in this market are all delicious!

Basilica Christmas Market

The St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market complete with skating rink.

Of course, we would be remiss not to tell you about our top three things to consume at any Budapest Christmas Markets.  1. Mulled Wine 2. Fried Potato Pancakes and 3. Marzipan Chocolate.  Okay, number 3 is really for Andrew as I personally find marzipan gross  – but Andrew can’t get enough of it!

Hungarian Potato Pancakes

A Hungarian Potato Pancake. We like to top ours with sour cream and shredded cheese. Yum!

Thanks for reading!  Andrew and I are popping out for another glass of mulled wine…