Traditional Hungarian Christmas dinner
Christmas, the family celebration, is a time for hearty eating. Over the holiday period, even the calorie-conscious advocates of healthy eating allow themselves a few sumptuous treats — and a few additional pounds. In Hungary, Christmas Eve is spent with the immediate family: parents, children, grandparents, and possibly a few very close friends. It is the time for the traditional Hungarian Christmas dinner.
The families congregate around the decorated Christmas tree late in the afternoon, candles are lit and traditional Christmas carols are sung, while everyone looks at the decorated presents under the tree, eager to locate their own. And when the joy and excitement of present-giving has faded, the Christmas meal begins.
The festively laid tables are decorated with green fir twigs, Christmas confectionery, oranges or polished, red-cheeked apples, which symbolize peasant culture, health and love. As a relic of the former church tradition of fasting for Advent, it is still traditional for fish to be eaten by many Hungarian families on Christmas Eve — often in the form of a halászlé (fish soup).
Popular desserts with poppy seeds, such as the poppy seed roll and, in many places, noodles with poppy seeds or poppy seed pudding, recall an even older tradition. The innumerable tiny seeds were originally meant as a fertility charm, to ensure a plentiful harvest in the coming year at the winter solstice. On the first and second day of the Christmas holiday, karácsonyi pulykasült (Christmas turkey), gesztenyével töltött pulyka (turkey with chestnut stuffing) or töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage) are served.
If a pig had been butchered before Christmas, the menu consists of butchering celebration soup, sausages, and roast pork with the usual potato and vegetable sides. The prelude to the feast is usually a meat soup and the meal is rounded off with some sort of sweet confectionery, bagels being a particular favorite. This great culinary event is accompanied by noble wines of a quality worthy of the occasion.
These are the dishes of the traditional Hungarian Christmas dinner: