All posts tagged Traditional Hungarian Christmas

We have been walking around the Budapest Christmas Markets this year to take a look at the amazing gingerbread Christmas tree decorations, some of them with Hungarian folk motifs and a Hungarian twist. On a traditional Hungarian Christmas tree, you can always find some Christmas Candy, the Szaloncukor, and often see home made gingerbread Christmas tree ornaments, often made together with the kids. Or, bought at the Budapest Christmas Fair. Like these beauties.

You can see many of the Hungarian gingerbread Christmas tree decorations here: Hungarian Folk Motifs on Christmas decorations

Hungarian Folk Motifs on Christmas decorations

Hungarian Folk Motifs on Christmas gingerbread decorations

If you want to do some gingerbread decorations yourselves with the children, there is a playhouse in the middle of Vorosmarty Square at the Budapest Christmas market where you can join the locals to do some Xmas workshops, like decorating gingerbread hearts, bells, etc. The playhouse is open in the afternoons and at the weekends. Free to join.

These are some that we liked most. Please send in your photos of the gingerbread Christmas decorations you liked most to BudapestChristmas [at] gmail [dot] com.


Budapest Basilica Christmas Midnight Mass

The biggest cathedral of Budapest, the St Stephen’s Basilica is one of the tenets of Christmas events in Budapest. In general, the masses / church services are held at 8:30am, 10am, 12pm (noon), and at 6pm in the Basilica of Budapest.

Budapest St Istvan Cathedral

Budapest St Istvan Cathedral

As you can expect, the Basilica has differing opening hours for tourists and for church goers. Please respect the church community during your visit.

Opening Hours of St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest

December 24

  • 3pm-4pm Bethlehem: the story of Bethlehem will be enacted (traditional Hungarian custom to act out the Nativity play, which is called ‘betlehemezes’ in Hungarian)
  • 12am, Christmas midnight mass at St Stephen Basilica. The midnight mass is usually 1 hour, and not aimed at tourists, but of course, you are free to attend if you wish to visit the mass for itself.

December 25, du 1pm – 5pm. Fun fact: This is also a special day in Hungary as St Stephen was crowned the first Hungarian king on either Dec 25 1000, or Jan 1 in the year 1001 (the beginning of the new year in medieval documents may refer to both)

December 26 du 1pm – 5pm

The church is called Szt Istvan Bazilika in Hungarian (named after St Stephen, the first king of Hungary)

Budapest Basilica

Budapest Basilica – Neil Howard Photography

For over a hundred years, Hungarian families have been decorating the Christmas tree with a decorative candy called Szaloncukor (szalon meaning parlour, and cukor meaning sugar).

For most Hungarians celebrating Christmas also means a hunt for the best Hungarian szaloncukor. But why is it a special candy? It is certainly the most traditional Hungarian Christmas sweets, a gift and a decor in itself.

Hungarian Christmas Fondant

Szaloncukor on the Christmas Tree

Szaloncukor on the Christmas Tree

Szaloncukor is the Hungarian Christmas Fondant. It is easy to carry, not so expensive to buy, and makes a good Christmas gift if you are visiting Budapest in winter time. You can also try them before just buying them to make sure that you really love what you give as a Christmas gift from Hungary.

What is Szaloncukor?

Szaloncukor is made of fondant, then covered by a thin chocolate layer (or not, but most of them are), and then wrapped into a nice, Christmassy paper or wrapping sheet with a special shape. The oval shaped fondant candy keeps its ovalness, and the szaloncukor as a whole has a bow tie shape with two frilly ends.

More traditional szaloncukor candies were wrapped in real paper and the frills were made of a very fine flimsy paper of a distinctive color. These days, the Christmas candy comes in shiny wraps.

Flavors of the Christmas ‘Fondant’ Candies

The Christmas fondant candies are not so fondant any more. The Xmas candies come in dozens of flavours. According to a recent vote on the best szaloncukor makes in Hungary, the top two manufacturers are Stühmer (Stuhmer Korfu got tons of votes, it is made of honey, egg white, frappe and covered in dark chocolate) and Szamos Marzipan fondants (made of marzipan of course).

This is the top ten list of Hungarian Xmas fondants, which locals like:

Hungarian Christmas Fondant Top List

Hungarian Christmas Fondant Top List

Top Favorite Flavors of Szaloncukor (based on the thousands of votes on, December 2011)
  • Gelatin (sort of wine gum filling, covered in cholocate): Zselés Szaloncukor
  • Marzipan – probably the best one is made by Szamos Marzipan
  • Caramel
  • Cognac dipped sour cherry
  • Coconut
  • Hazelnut (Milka seems to be the leading brand in Hungary for the mogyoros szaloncukor)
  • Chestnut
  • Rum cocoa
  • Rum nut
  • Chocolate
  • Yoghurt & fruit
  • Apple cinnamon
  • Quark
  • Tiramisu
  • Strawberry
  • Sour cherry
  • Almond
But Szamos can be enjoyed. Excellent sour cherry variants. the marzipan is filled with a sour cherry cream (slightly alcoholic).
Expensive approx Huf 4,600 / kilo, but high end szaloncukor boxes can cost as much as HUF 8,000 / kg too (e.g. Stühmer’s luxury fondants).
Szaloncukor shaped handcrafted decor

Szaloncukor shaped handcrafted decor (made by Diavackai)

Szamos marzipan szaloncukor are tasty and great value, their price range is around the same as the well known Milka branded szaloncukor fondants. Milka is the market leader in the milk chocolate Christmas candies with hazelnut filling, which are quite sweet.
You can also try a much cheaper local Christmas fondant candy branded as Norbi. Norbi is a Hungarian fitness guru who is a great divider in Hungary. He has a range of products, foods, meals etc which are supposedly healthier products with fewer calories (e.g. Norbi update mustard, Norbi update ketchup, etc.) He even has a good and very popular lunch diner selling very cheap Hungarian meals as lunch menus. Norbi Xmas candy is not top tier szaloncukor but a good value option.

Oops, where is the szaloncukor from the Christmas tree?

Oops, where is the szaloncukor from the Christmas tree? (emmanyuszi’s photo)

Where can you buy Hungarian Christmas Sweets?

Szaloncukor, the traditional Xmas candy is sold all over Budapest, in every shop and supermarket. But Supermarket brands are for decor only. You have been warned. In addition to grocery stores and supermarkets, you can buy the specialty szaloncukor brands in  the brand shops, like the Szamos shop by Vorosmarty Square (Szamos Gourmet House, right next to the Christmas market on Vorosmarty Square), or Stuhmer shop in Budapest in Pozsonyi Street, District XIII (Stühmer Bolt).

Szaloncukor the fondant candy is a seasonal product, so you will only find it in Budapest from October to January, definitely not in the summer, sorry. Many tons of Christmas fondant candies are sold all over in Hungary before Christmas, and then what is left after Christmas is often sold at a reduced price. They do not store well for a long time, which is a good sign usually that it has not been full of preservatives.

The prices of szaloncukor boxes are quite high, as if you were buying handmade chocolates: in general the average price of good quality szaloncukor is approx. HUF 4,600 / kilo. The boxes come in all sizes, some of them are quite decorative and good for storing little tid bits in them.

Make sure you only buy szaloncukor fondants in a manufactured box, as these candies have been tested. At some of the Budapest Christmas markets, you can buy fondants by the kilo, but these candies may not have been tested, so it is better not to risk your health, especially if you wish to take it home as a small Christmas gift or souvenir from Budapest, Hungary.

Hungarian Traditions related to the Fondant

Many families hang the szaloncukor fondants on the Christmas tree, and place a basketful of them on the Christmas table. Still, somehow a szaloncukor taken from the tree tastes better. Hungarian children develop a special skill to make the Christmas candy wrap look as if it had been untouched, still full (parents cannot guard the tree well enough, so this usually develops into a traditional family game, who is ‘stealing’ the sweets from the Christmas tree, who is eating the candy after cleaning teeth in the evening, etc.).

You can also buy little metal hooks to pierce the paper of the szaloncukor so that it is easy to hang on the Christmas tree. Other families take a thread and make a string of szaloncukor as a decor on the Christmas tree.

Hungarian Christmas Sweets

Hungarian Christmas Sweets – Candy (crafted by zsizsu72)

History of Hungarian Szaloncukor

Nobody knows for sure how the special Christmas candy tradition started in Hungary, but one thing is sure, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that it started to be part of the Christmas celebrations. Hungary was part of the Austria Hungary dual monarchy, when the richer Hungarian noble families had nice parlors (or salons) to erect a Christmas tree (often for each child) and put up Christmas decor on the trees. Amongst them Salon sugar (szaloncukor), which were handcrafted from soft fondant with added flavors. The candy most probably came to Hungary via German sweets traders and makers (fondant was originally made in medieval France). One of the most popular Hungarian novelists, Mor Jokai called them Szalon czukkedli, which also shows that the name of the candy started off as a borrowed word from German.

It was only years later that the top Hungarian sweets manufacturers of the 19th century started to make the szaloncukor candies by the kilos. The easy production and delicious flavors made it and instant success, so many Hungarian families started to buy them from Cafe Gerbeaud and from Stühmer (both still in production). Budapest led the fashion, but the tradition of szaloncukor fondants were quickly picked up by families living outside Budapest. These days it is very widespread, from small villages to the Hungarian capital.

While fondant was typical during the Socialist era, after that, since 1989 the fillings have been made from all sorts of exquisite chocolate bonbon fillings. So we may as well call them Hungarian Christmas truffles, festive bonbons, silky smooth winter sweets.


Photo of the single szaloncukor, close up from Mistinguett blog

The annual Christmas events at the Museum of Ethnography can be a nice experience during the Advent in Budapest, Hungary.

Hungarian Christmas

Hungarian Christmas Bethlehem Play from the 1900s

2012 Programs of the Museum of Ethnography Xmas events:

14:00 to 18:00, Dec 15 2012

Prices: HUF 1400 for adults, HUF 700 for kids.
Waiting for Christmas craft workshop
Making Christmas tree and interior ornaments, crafting Christmas gifts

All children and parents are welcome to create a lovely festive paper lamp, a traditional Hungarian maize husk angel, some simple Christmas tree decorations inspired by old Christmas motifs in Hungary, make Christmas greeting cards on colored cardboard or on soft metal plates, or even try to make a paper nativity scene as well.

15:30, Dec 15 2012
Christmas Advent
Guided Tour (although the guided tour is in Hungarian, there are many parts, e.g. the film screenings, you can enjoy without speaking a word in Hungarian)

Why you and I celebrate Christmas? Was there always a Christmas tree in the homes of families or is it a relatively new tradition? What Christmas gifts were given to Hungarian children, had there been a Xmas gift at all?
The Hungarian winter solstice festivities associated with Christmas are rich in faiths, beliefs and rituals. Hungarian folk songs, and exhibits will help to recall the old rustic Christmas feelings.

17:00, Dec 15 2012
The Garden of Upward Sounds
Songs of the Day Moon Band (HolddalaNap Band), special Christmas Concert

“Up runs the soul’s desire, wing many tremble in the sky atrium. Day in the West and the East, in ancient times and now in this place, poems and songs were set to their home country to run.” These up running poems inspired the band for their Christmas concert. The music is only acoustic, world music and folk music pieces.

You can hear Flamenco Christmas carols, Egyptian Coptic Christian songs, carols from Moldavia, along with the fast-paced songs of the Moon Day Band to which you can even dance.
The band members are outstanding musicians, folk musicians like Lydia Draskóczy, the Zurgó Orchestra violinist, Arpad Keresztes Nagy playing on koboz (and old string instument), Robert Vidak guitarist, who is one of the gems amongst Hungarian Flamencos guitarists, and Csaba Bakos young master of the Balkan rhythms. Do enjoy the rhythmic dance music, the simplicity and power of Hungarian folk music, flamenco and Balkan inspirations.

Bakos, Csaba – percussion
Draskóczy Lydia – violin
Anna’s Goulash – for
Arpad Nagy of the Cross – vocals, lute, flute
Robert Vida – Guitar

About the band: Facebook / Moon Day songs, / Moon Day Song

Matthias Church is a beautiful church in the Castle District in Budapest, on the Buda Castle Hill, and is one of the top Budapest tourist attractions.

Matthias Church Inside

Inside the Matthias Church – Nicolas Fleury Photography

In addition Matthias Church (Matyas templom) is a special Christmas attraction too, especially on Christmas Eve, when you can attend the Midnight Mass with the locals to celebrate together.

The opening hours of Matthias Church in December are as follows:

December 1-23:

during the Advent period the church is open on the following days and hours

Monday – Friday: 9am – 5pm

Saturday: 9am-5pm

Sunday: 1pm-5pm

Dec 24:  9am-1pm. Just like in the major Catholic churches in Hungary, there will be a Christmas Midnight Mass in the Matthias Church too, which is about an hour long.

We advise you to arrange a taxi before attending the Xmas mass at Matthias Church, unless you have booked a hotel room in the Buda Castle District area in Budapest (e.g. Hilton Buda Castle). Budapest public transportis very sparse on Christmas Eve, and the winter nights can be quite freezing.

Matthias Church in December

Matthias Church in December – Ben G Hancock Photography

Dec 25: open as usual, in 2016: from 1pm to 5pm
Dec 26: open as usual, in 2016: from 1pm to 5pm

between the Christmas holidays and New Year: open as usual, depending on which day you wish to visit Matthias Church
Dec 31: open as usual, in 2016: from 9am to 5pm
Jan 1: open as usual, in 2016: from 1pm to 5pm