As the cool winter sets in and the evenings grow darker, cityscapes and their bright lights become synonymous with early festive spirit and woolly-headed evening explorations. As street lights and city buildings gain their festively lit decorations, thoughts turn to Christmas and the generosity, decadence and community bonding that often accompanies the holiday season.
Along the scenic banks of the Danube, the architecturally astounding city of Budapest nestles into thick green forests and overlooks the infamous river. Clusters of World heritage sites litter the city, with a detailed symmetry to its architecture and rich, varied history still evident in the bustling city. As capital and largest city in Hungary, Budapest has become one of the most popular European destinations to visit and its beauty is paralleled by its atmospheric surroundings and traditional culture.
At the end of the well-known ’fashion street’ – Véci Utca, lies Vörösmarty square, which for 1 month starting Thursday 27th November becomes the home of the Budapest Christmas fair. This grotto style variety fair embodies the culture, atmosphere and traditional history of all things Hungarian. This tasty exploration of the country’s culture was restyled after a decade long run by the Hungary Tourism Authority as a means of promoting all things Hungarian.
Each year the fair highlights a different ethnographic region of Hungary, in 2013 the region was Örség, a region of Western Transdanubia that specialises in cold-pressed pumpkin seed oil. This festive fair and all of its eclectic produce must first be screened by the Hungarian Society of folk arts and crafts, who hold responsibility in ensuring all wares sold at the fair are Hungarian made, a policy originally created to enhance and honour the traditional authenticity of this Hungarian market.
Under this annual policy, all herbal soaps, leather belts, beeswax candles, brightly glazed ceramics, animal carvings, trinkets and cuisine are all pure, authentic Hungarian merchandise, infused with the essence of both the people and passion of Hungary. Be it as Christmas gifts or personal purchases, the goods sold at the Budapest Christmas fair have been designed to supply a holistic sensory experience of everything Hungary has to offer.
Laid out like a festive country village, over 150 cottage style booths are beautifully decorated with fir garlands and red velvet ribbons, all centreing around the icicle draped glittering tree, while orbs and lights stream overhead to provide a warm, twinkling setting. Budapest’s towering buildings and churches tower over the open air market, with its two stages amplifying the local musicians and their traditional festive songs.
All food and drink are locally made and sourced, reflecting Hungary’s passion and focus of pork, sugar and alcohol. Specialities are made from the country’s indigenous Mangalica pig; stews, ham, salami and sausages served with traditional peasant breads and spicy mustards. The Kürtóskalácor chimney cakes are a traditional cinnamon, charcoal fire melted pastry that is considered the taste of Hungary. Native tipples include; the rich, sweet wine Tokaji and forratt bor a hot mulled wine, both of which are popular sellers for those looking to warm themselves through the frosty Hungarian winter.
With so many synagogues, public buildings, parks, islands and spas to view within the stately city of Budapest, it may be difficult to find a place that provides a variety of authentic Hungarian culture all in one place other than the Christmas fair. The energy and atmosphere is electric on the streets of Budapest, with the epicentre ending at the Vörösmarty square, where the sights, smells and tastes of Budapest are only a casual walk away.
What are the main aspects required to build a city’s atmosphere and vibrancy?