Many European cultures have some version of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, and the Hungarian version, Mikulás was introduced in the 1850s. The traditions of Santa are different in Europe and overseas countries. In Hungary, he arrives on 6 December and not during the Christmas period by the end of December.
Saint Nicholas was a Greek man born in the late 3rd century. During his life, Nicholas became a bishop of Myra, which is located in Turkey today. He became known as a defender of the Church, and the patron saint of children and students. The traditional image of the Mikulás is an old, white-bearded man, wearing red robes, a white-red hat, he flies with his sleigh that is pulled by reindeers.
The evening before Santa Claus Day, children clean their shoes and place them in front of the window. According to tradition, Mikulás secretly leaves little bags filled with tasty treats inside the shoes for children to find in the morning when they wake up. Gifts may include chocolate Mikulás figures, candies, oranges, peanuts, and “szaloncukor” (a special Hungarian chocolate sweet that people hang on the Christmas tree in Hungary.) The children then leave their gift bags and the chocolate figures in the window for others to show their presents.
Those children, who behaved naughtily get “virgács”, a pile of gold-colored birch twigs. “Virgács” is given by the “Krampusz”, the helper of Mikulás, who is a fearful devilish creature mostly represented with horns and long fur. The day of Mikulás is celebrated in schools and nurseries, where children sing Mikulás songs or recite poems, as well.
Before Mikulás day, the shops are filled with various chocolate Mikulás figures. Be part of this tradition and surprise your friends and loved ones by hiding a chocolate figure (or virgács) in their shoes on the night before 6 December!