Christmas 2018 will be our 14th Christmas in Hungary. When we arrived to Hungary the first time, Hannah was almost two, I was pregnant with Matthew, and Jonathan’s arrival on the scene was years away. At first glance, Christmas traditions in Hungary can seem very similar to those in the States, but there were also many things that we missed—Christmas Eve services, traditional Christmas carols, candy canes, egg nog, Christmas specials on TV (before the age of streaming videos), and of course friends and family. We’ve never been able to travel to the U.S. for Christmas, so over the years we developed a number of our own traditions as a family.
Because we missed Christmas Eve services, we decided to buy a new family game to be opened and played each Christmas Eve. Because we missed English Christmas carols, we decided to have a family devotional time each Sunday of advent, complete with John leading us in carols with his guitar and the lighting of our advent wreath. Because we missed eggnog, John developed a recipe for home-made eggnog which he makes by the gallon during the Christmas season. One year, our Christmas list included a long list of Christmas specials, and we’ve added to that collection ever since. We have too many to watch every year, but we watch as many as we can and there are a few that always get viewed as a whole family. Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas we save for last.
At the same time, we have other traditions that have sprung up because of the wonderful Christmas options in Hungary. We go to the Budapest Christmas market every year; we always hang wrapped chocolate candies (szaloncukor) on our tree; we celebrate St. Nicholas day by giving our kids small treats and presents in their boots; and at some point during the holiday season, we go to the largest outdoor ice rink on the continent, which is in downtown Budapest.
Now our kids are 18, 15, and 10. As they get older and their schedules get busier, it’s getting harder to fit in all our traditions! A few, like reading our collection of Christmas picture books aloud together, and always having the kids make new ornaments for the tree, have fallen by the wayside. The years of having all our kids at home for Christmas have flown by. This year will mark Hannah’s last Christmas at home before she leaves for college. It will be extra-special, but also bittersweet. That makes me even more thankful that God used our loneliness and homesickness during the holiday season to help us craft our family traditions and shape all the memories we’ve made together. Our kids have said that that our traditions are their favorite part of the holiday season, even above any gifts they may receive. I trust that as our lives continue to change moving forward, God will help us keep some traditions and change others in ways that will help us continue building memories as we celebrate Jesus’ birth together.
– By Tricia Fraser, OMS Hungary Team Member