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This Christmas, I thought you might enjoy hearing a little bit about my family’s Christmas traditions during the time of my youth….
When we were children, Christmas was truly magical for my sister and me. We celebrated it in the Hungarian tradition, on Christmas Eve, when the darkness of night created mystery and stillness. Since we were living in Cleveland, Ohio at the time, it also often meant a blanket of snow, which added to the tranquility.
On the afternoon of December 24, Naomi and I would take extra care to prepare for the evening. We spent the afternoon taking a special bubble bath, curling our hair, ironing our “dress-up” dresses, playing board games….and waiting, waiting…. anticipation rising….until finally, soon after dark, we’d hear a tinkling bell, the signal that Baby Jesus had come and left gifts for us.
We ran downstairs, and where sofa and table had stood that morning, there now towered a luminescent tree, sparkling with lights, ornaments and tinsel. Brightly wrapped gifts lay under the tree and an amazing array of food was on the table. All in all it was a breathtaking sight for a pair of little girls.
Our family, which at that time included my parents, one grandmother and an aunt and uncle, stood around the tree while we sang the traditional Christmas song “Menybol az Angyal…” (Angels from Heaven) in Hungarian. My father would say a few words of remembrance about those who were no longer with us and to commemorate the rest of our family who were still behind the Iron Curtain. We toasted us all in with Champagne and then…… dinner!
The feast on the table always included the traditional stuffed mushrooms and the once-a- year treat: seafood. My mother would create a plate of breaded and fried scallops, shrimp, and flounder with potatoes, hot vegetables and cold salads and of course, hearty bread. The remarkable thing is that she prepared this dinner in a party dress and high heels! That still amazes me! We all enjoyed dinner, and as the adults sipped on their wine afterwards we were finally allowed to open our gifts.
Afterwards, dessert included the traditional Christmas poppy and walnut rolls called Makos Beigli and Dios Beigli, my favorite, Zserbo, which is an incredible multilayered pastry filled with raspberry preserves and crushed walnuts covered with a chocolate glaze, and of course a Christmas staple, Vanilias Kifl