Seventeen years ago, at the end of November, I flew to Hungary to preach the restored gospel to the Hungarians. I could hardly understand anything, much less speak the language, so in a way, I was very childlike in my understanding of this new country, and its culture surrounding Christmas. My first experiences there, have a kind of magic quality in my memory. Here are a few things that were new to me:
- I learned about St. Nicholas Day. It takes place on December 6, and my sweet companion placed candy in my shoes for me to find that morning.
- I learned children's Christmas songs about the birth of our Savior. Pasztorok "Shepherds" was my favorite - the tune runs through my head as I type :-)
- I tasted szaloncukor, and couldn't get enough! It's a little decoratively wrapped candy that they hang on the tree there. If you carefully unwrap it, you can get the candy out, while making the wrapper look like it is still full.
- I was exposed to all sorts of new cuisine like halaszle (fish soup - the traditional meal on Christmas Eve) and yummy baked goods that they would eat for their holidays. I gained a ton of weight, enjoying it all!
- I experienced Christmas on Christmas Eve with a sweet little family, The Dobais, as they celebrated the Baba Jesuska (Little Baby Jesus) bringing the presents to celebrate His birth. My heart still burns and tears come as I remember them lovingly giving the simplest of gifts to their daughter (a colorful pencil and a few other trinkets) bought with their hard-earned meager money. It's still unfathomable to me that they then gave my companion and me gifts as well! My heart breaks with the commercialism that surrounds this holiday in our country now, especially as I remember the expression of joy and excitement on the little girl's face as she gratefully received her parent's humble offerings. They had laid out their finest food for us and dressed in their best clothes to celebrate this special event. Dobai Laszlo, the father, had recently been baptized, and they showed us their gratitude with their sacrifice.
- I attended Christmas Eve services in beautiful cathedrals that were packed with people. I felt the Spirit as we sang hymns together that spoke of the Holy Birth. This is a link to the song "Pasztorok". It sounds a lot like when we sang it together in this cathedral.
I finally bought szaloncukor this year to share with the children. I told them that each day they could sneak one candy off the tree, but if I caught them they would not be able to have any more. The kids loved that they got to be "sneaky" and didn't get in trouble. I would often hear one or two of them start giggling. When asked what was funny, it was because they had been successful in getting their treat. I never did catch one of them !