A Very European Christmas

Christmas in Europe is very different from Christmas in the States.

“Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa.” — Bart Simpson

In Hungary, Szent Mikulás brings some treats, mostly candy, but he does it on 5. December. It is the baby Jesus who brings the gifts and he does it on Christmas Eve and so everyone gets to open their presents a day earlier. How a baby brings a load of gifts to every household is a mystery to me and science, but that’s what we call the magic of Christmas, err, I mean miracle, since magic is the work of the devil and witches.

In the States, kids get dozens of toys and other expensive things. People are so pressured into getting the right gift, the perfect gift, and one that is expensive enough to make the other person happy. And then there’s the game of trying too hard to match the price of the gift you get from someone else. The most terrible thing is when someone gives you a gift and you didn’t get them anything because then you feel really bad. So in preparation, you always have to have a few extra bottles of wine or other generic gift that someone will be happy about. It’s a game of gift warfare, a gift arms race of the sort.

In Europe, kids only get a few gifts. You might get that new MP3 player you wanted, a novel you’ve been hoping to read, maybe a shirt or two your mother thinks would look good on you, a new game for your game console and some other really small things like candy. In the States, you might get an iPod, a $50 iTunes gift card, the new Harry Potter book (or whatever it is kids are reading these days) along with a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble or Amazon, 5 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, a $100 dollar gift card to the Gap or clothing store of choice, a new game console (even though the other one is only a year old, last Christmas), 3 games for said new console, and a bunch of small things people like to call stocking stuffers.

It’s just interesting the emphasis placed on different things. I personally don’t celebrate Christmas, but I’m still stuck buying gifts for my friends, not because I’m forced to by a capitalistic driven society, but because there is joy in getting something for someone you care about. Combine that with the element of surprise and the priceless look on their face when you truly impress them with your thoughtfulness and you will have something in life that you can’t buy with a lot of presents.

This Christmas was spent with my friend’s family here in a Hungarian town located in Slovakia, and two years before that I spent Christmas with another good friend of mine and her family in Budapest. I’m thankful that I got to spend Christmas with these two different families especially since this holiday is reserved exclusively for family.