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Santa Claus Day in Hungary: Have You Been Naughty or Nice?

Nothing brightens a bleak winter like the festivities of Christmastime: colorful lights, Christmas markets, warm drinks, time with loved ones, and the excitement of children who just can’t wait to see what St. Nicholas brings them (And perhaps nothing makes winter more terrifying than the anticipation of Krampus’s arrival in your town!).

In this article, you’ll learn all about the Hungarian Santa Claus Day, from its main characters to how it’s celebrated each year. 

Let’s get started!

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1. What is Santa Claus Day?

Santa Claus Holding a Present

Each year on December 6, Santa Claus Day (also known as St. Nicholas Day) brightens young children’s spirits all over the country.

Santa Claus Day in Hungary has several parallels to Christmas in the U.S. and other countries, though Hungarians celebrate Christmas as a separate holiday. This holiday is held in commemoration of Saint Nicholas (called Szent Miklós in Hungarian), well-known in Hungary as the patron saint of pálinka (“fruit brandy”) distillers, the town of Kecskemét, sailors, and merchants.

Many European cultures have some version of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, and the Hungarian version, Mikulás, was introduced in the 1850s. Mikulás is depicted being dressed in red robes, a miter, and a staff, quite similar to the Santa Claus of the U.S. and other countries. Interestingly, the name Mikulás was replaced with Télapó (“Father Winter”) during the communist era, due to the original name being considered too Christian.

The Hungarian version of Santa Claus also has two helpers: an angel and a demon-like figure named Krampusz (“Krampus”). We’ll talk about the latter in a bit!

2. Santa Claus Day Traditions and Celebrations

Someone Giving Someone Else a Present

The evening before Santa Claus Day, children clean their shoes and place them in front of the window. According to tradition, Mikulás will leave tasty treats inside the shoes for the good children. Gifts may include a narancs (“orange”), csokoládé (“chocolate”), peanuts, or candies.  On the morning of Santa Claus Day, Hungary is filled with children’s excitement and wonder as they wake up to find these precious gifts in their shoes!

Even among adults, it’s common to megajándékoz valakit valamivel (“gift somebody with something”) on this day. This can be playfully done by putting the gifts in someone’s shoes to surprise them, or by simply wrapping the gift and handing it to them. 

Throughout the Christmas season, one can find ‘Santa Claus’ roaming the busier streets of Hungary, which adds depth and joy to children’s view of the holidays. In addition, parents will often ask their friends to dress as Santa and come over to visit the children. You can imagine how exciting this event is for the little ones! 

You may be wondering about Christmas Eve. Do children receive presents on this day, too? 

Yes! But instead of expecting gifts from Santa Claus, children look forward to seeing what Jesus brought them. 

3. Krampus 

As mentioned earlier, Santa Claus is said to have a demon-like partner named Krampus. Are you familiar with the Krampus story? 

Krampus is often depicted as a type of half-man and half-goat creature. In popular culture, he’s often claimed to be the son of a Norse goddess named Hel, though his actual origins are disputed. The character of Krampus is thought to have been introduced through the old pagan traditions. 

While children may look forward to gifts from St. Nicholas on Santa Claus Day, they also dread the arrival of Krampus. All year long, parents remind their children to behave or else Krampus will come and get them. He may kidnap them in a basket and drop them in the river, take them down to hell with him, hit them with a virgács (“birch-rod”), or simply leave coal in their shoes. Not surprisingly, this tradition has been banned by religious organizations as well as government officials over the years—but somehow, it always finds its way back into the holiday season.

In Austria and Germany, there is a Krampus parade (Krampuslauf, or “Krampus run”), during which several men dress up in disturbing Krampus costumes, have a few drinks, and then proceed to chase people all over town while brandishing switches. 

4. Essential Vocabulary for Santa Claus Day

A Reindeer Pulling a Sled along a Snowy Winter Scene

Let’s look at some of the vocabulary words from this article!

  • Narancs – “Orange” [n]
  • Csokoládé – “Chocolate” [n]
  • Földimogyoró – “Peanut” [n]
  • Szakáll – “Beard” [n]
  • Mikulás – “Santa Claus”
  • Krampusz – “Krampus”
  • Rénszarvas – “Reindeer” [n]
  • Mikulás csomag – “Santa Claus pack” [n]
  • Cipőt pucol – “Clean the shoes”
  • Virgács – “Birch-rod” [n]
  • Szánkó – “Sled” [n]
  • Szent Miklós – “Saint Nicholas”
  • Zsák – “sack” [n]
  • Megajándékoz valakit valamivel – “Gift somebody with something”

Remember that you can find the pronunciation of each word and phrase on our Santa Claus Day vocabulary list! 

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning about this iconic European holiday with us, and that you took away some valuable cultural information. How does Santa Claus Day compare with winter holidays in your country? Let us know in the comments! 

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn even more about Hungarian culture, check out the following blog posts on

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Happy Santa Claus Day! 😉

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