Szentendre Christmas Shop and Museum represents the old Christmas atmosphere in the familiar streets of this small town. “People come to Szentendre to stroll, eat, enjoy the air, the banks of the Danube,” says Éva Hubay, who designed and produced this museum. The Maison Hubay, open all year round, aims to provide visitors with a festive atmosphere and the magic of Christmas. Although among the most impressive Christmas decorations you can find pigs with masks in the store, visitors love traditional ornaments the most. We talked about the museum, old Hungarian Christmas traditions and unusual and traditional Christmas tree decorations. Interview.
Original interview by Borbala Verseghi-Nagy / Ungarn Heute. Translation by Eszter Grifatong.
In the attic you found trifles belonging to your great-grandmother, which sparked your love for Christmas tree decorations. Do you remember what kind of ornaments they were?
A small silver bell and an angel.
And was that when you started collecting Christmas tree decorations?
You come from a family from Upper Hungary. What were your family’s Christmas habits?
At Christmas, the fish and pork dishes were always on the table, the stuffed cabbage (töltött káposzta) was a staple. Poultry was not allowed to be eaten, as it was said that otherwise our luck would be crushed. In addition, an extra place setting was always on the table in case someone else joined us. We always put money under the tablecloth, but I didn’t quite understand why. Leftovers were set aside and returned to the animals at midnight.
Are holidays in Hungary any different today from your childhood?
In general, the same habits can be observed. For example, it has been argued that on the 24th, you don’t take out the trash, you don’t hang up the laundry, you don’t wash the clothes….
We are in Szentendre, where the Christmas Museum opened its doors 11 years ago. Why here of all places?
Because it’s a familiar little town, near Budapest. Lots of people come here to visit. In Szentendre you will usually find multicultural locals. There are 5 different churches, 5 different religions, all still active today. Finally, the seat of the Eparchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church is located here.
With the creation of Maison Hubay and a Christmas fair, the idea of Eva Hubay and her family becomes reality. During the Advent season 2010 a store opened in the picturesque atmosphere of downtown Szentendre. Over 5,000 pieces of special Christmas decorations from private collections are offered for sale here. Christmas decorations made with different techniques and related to the holidays, as well as greeting cards, all representing the history of the last 200 years.
There is not a lot of competition in this market, but a Christmas house is much bigger: Gödöllő’s house is 300 square meters in size and consists of 9 rooms. Are you planning to expand?
We don’t intend to expand. It is an original old house that we have renovated. We don’t want to be bigger than a family house because this way we can keep its cozy atmosphere. We can bring and restore to our visitors the atmosphere of the Christmases of yesteryear.
Historically older Christmas decorations are the main items displayed here. The most recent pieces are also exhibited in a traditional environment. We have also designed photo corners where visitors can sit among decorated Christmas trees to take photos. The atmosphere is more festive than a simple store. People come to Szentendre to stroll, eat, enjoy the air, the banks of the Danube. Our goal is to make those who visit us feel at home.
You are also open in summer. Who could have the idea of buying Christmas decorations in the summer?
Those who simply come to visit Szentendre. We have an incredible number of visitors from abroad in the summer. Many come from Australia, New Zealand, Canada. We also have many Israeli guests. Many young people come to bring their grandmothers a classic Christmas decoration, a bell or a ball. And they do it every season.
And many buy their souvenirs here, regardless of the season. Young couples met for a date in Szentendre. Later, after their wedding, they often return, either with their young children or expecting a baby, and buy their first bauble with the child’s first Christmas written on it.
Where do the jewelry in the collection come from?
There is jewelry that I buy at auction, or I find something in the mass of jets, or in an abandoned attic. Acquaintances also let me know if they would like to give a Christmas decoration to the museum. My son is in Germany at the moment and he found some old boxes of ornaments in an attic. He picks them up, sorts them and brings them home.
This is how I replenish the stock, because visitors regularly take something with them. So there are now two less classic Hungarian pieces in the store. You can see that people love this old jewelry. (Laughs)
Typical old Hungarian motifs are soda bottles, Unicum bottles and the so-called Csongor cigar.
Csongor is a Hungarian cigar brand. After 1948, the Csongor cigar was produced in Un-garn, probably in Eger. The Csongor was made with a paper envelope inside, so it was not a real cigar, but it looked like a cigarette was wrapped in tobacco leaves. The brand has survived until the last decades. After its disappearance, the Újfehértó cigar factory made another attempt to revive it. Although the packaging, as well as the contents, were made in a design that met the expectations of the time, it was not a success. Source: dohanymuzeum.hu
Until today, Hungarian Christmas decorations are made in Upper Hungary. From there we bring many beautiful hand painted glass balls. We also have a self-designed collection, hand painted in the Czech Republic on the models of old embroidery designs. These also conform to the Hungarian taste and are very popular with foreigners as they recognize the characteristic Hungarian colors and shapes on the snow-white balls.
One hundred years ago, people’s interest in what they liked to hang on their trees varied considerably from country to country. Today, we encounter globalization even at Christmas. For example, the Scandinavian elves have a strong presence in the Hungarian market. Does this endanger the “Hungarian Christmas”?
In my opinion, Hungarian Christmas habits are not at all in danger. On the one hand, the number of people who buy these Scandinavian elves is not very large. On the other hand, the change and development of Christmas customs and decorations is a normal process. However, 80% of us are still looking for the classic, red and gold ornaments and Christmas baubles. These cranky and elves are bought just for fun.
The intimacy comes from the Christmas decorations hung on the tree, which restore its sparkle to the room. With balls of different brightness and colors reflecting the lights in the room, a Christmas tree becomes admirable. We see each other in the balls, in fact we reflect there.
This mysterious Christmas tree atmosphere is difficult for a Grinch to create.
You also sell masked pigs as Christmas tree decorations. How do customers like them? Don’t they spoil the Christmas atmosphere? Is there really a demand for them when the epidemic has dominated our lives for almost 2 years?
The colors, shapes and patterns of Christmas decorations have always followed the current trend.
I hope we are lucky and that this little pig will soon be just a reminder of this pandemic. Basically, a pig brings us luck. They say it brings happiness. Not to mention that pork has always been an important source of food for us Hungarians. In the past, winters were very harsh. During the winter months, everyone had to look after their own survival.
Today the world is different, but many customs have been preserved for Christmas night and many of them are related to the pig.
Every year, a 5-day Christmas exhibition in Frankfurt determines what is currently in fashion. What is the trend this year?
I can quite accurately describe this year’s trend atop a Christmas tree. It has a deep salmon brown color combined with some blue and there are little stars on it. There is a light, a gradient of colors, but this color is very difficult to determine. In my opinion, however, the hue is not the important thing, but rather that the ornament shines.
What will your Christmas tree look like this year?
My Christmas tree will be exactly how my grandchildren decide to decorate it. To me, it is the most beautiful tree, no matter what hangs on it, whether its ornaments are molded crafts or drawings of little children. I feel most comfortable under this Christmas tree because it is decorated with love.