Hungarian stream of consciousness

Posted on | Wednesday, November 17, 2010 | No Comments

The holidays are fast approaching. I suppose if you want to be technical they have already arrived. Droves of parents at Target on their lunch breaks trying to find the perfect Barbie Dream House or Star Wars Boba Fet costume. Shopping for miscellaneous baked goods and the yearly mad dash for that one ingredient that somehow missed the shopping cart. Thanksgiving has always felt like it's own entity to me, close to Christmas but not connected. I can't quite get into the 'Christmas Spirit' until after Thanksgiving has passed. Seeing all these lights and decorations up already is throwing me off. One holiday at a time, please!

When I lived in Hungary there was only Christmas. November was simply used to prepared for the month-long event. The 25th itself was somber and reserved, but leading up to it? Incredible. Like the North Pole exploded all over Eastern Europe. There are festivals. And dancing. And music. And Craft Fairs on every corner and in every square, rows of colorful tents selling meticulously carved figurines and hand-knit clothing. And food. So much food. We would spend hours baking cookies and cakes in our tiny kitchen, and there was always a demand for more. But of all the foods we cooked and ate lángos was, and is, my favorite. It's baked and fried at nearly every festival and event in Hungary year 'round. If there is an event or celebration there is lángos, it's like gravity. It will always be there.

Lángos is important. Everyone eats it. There would be street vendors on almost every corner during Christmas, with lines going on for ages. Even if you knew there would be a 30 minute wait you still huddled together and waiting expectantly, because it was That. Good. Soft dough fried in oil and covered in salt and butter (and if you are lucky sour cream). It is something that I miss every holiday season.

I wasn't just the food that defined the Christmas celebrations though, it's everything that came with it. For lángos vendors it was the laughing children and the wonderful smell that would permeate everything -- hot bread mingling with snow, smoke, and wood chips. Hot bread that came out piping hot and fresh, steam rising in curls around half-frozen fingers. Butter and salt melting far too quickly. We'd gobble it down, in -10*C weather it wouldn't stay hot for long.

Then there is dancing at Dom Ter, the Cathedral Square, on creaky wooden boards that had likely been used as a stage for longer than I have been living. Brightly colored garlands and lights decorating the church and it's pavilion where the festivities were held. Old men in scruffy white and gray beards wearing worn jackets, singing with everything they have. There is a sadness in their singing, but the smiles on their faces stay firmly in place. Cold feet stomping to the rhythm against wooden boards as a dance starts. It didn't matter if you had no idea who you were dancing with, we danced anyway. We would laugh until tears came, until our faces ached. The older men who had seen famine and pain would buy the girls paper flowers. I remember one man kissing my forehead and saying I was his angel, tears in his eyes as he smiled at me.

Seeing the the entire city come alive was tremendous. As though Christmas captivated everything with its awe and wonder. Lights were strung and decorations scatter the streets, at night it bordered on ethereal. Especially after the first snow. December became a month dedicated to enjoying family. Joining together friends and family and valuing the time spent. I would venture out with my host family to go ice skating, or to listen to my uncle play his violin. I would go out with school friends at night and sing carols in butchered Hungarian (much to their amusement) as snow crunched below our feet and shop owners tried to call people in promising good food and cheap deals. It was so much more than receiving the most gifts. It was about valuing those around you.

I haven't felt that about Christmas in years, now. I don't know why. I can't quite mourn the loss of not having Hungary here with me still. It's in my heart no matter where I might be. I don't need to look very far to bring back the memories and share them with the people I value most.

I found a video on YouTube of Szeged during Christmas. The music is... Well, awful. But seeing all the places I treasure so greatly made me smile and filled me with anticipation. This Christmas will be about valuing those I love. It's not going to be about present, but about the time spent.

I meant to write about the cookies I baked yesterday. I suppose my mind was dwelling on other things that deserve to be remembered.



Photobucket I was born and raised in California. I have also lived in Hungary, Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and I will be moving again this summer. Kael is my incredibly awesome kiddo who is growing up far too quickly, and Alex is my fiance who makes me happier than should be legally allowed. I write about them a lot. I'm mildly obsessed with cooking and photography. I write about those things, too.