Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Of falcons and family: Christmas greetings from Hungary & Croatia

The joy-filled Christmas season is celebrated in so many countries on so many continents throughout the world. The merriment and hope of the season crosses borders and language barriers.

How much fun it is to learn how to wish others a "Merry Christmas" in a different language, particularly the language of one of our ancestors! In the spirit of the season, I'd like to share with you what I've learned about sharing holiday greetings in the languages of my Hungarian and Croatian ancestors.

In Hungarian, you may wish someone "Merry Christmas" by saying "Boldog Karácsonyt". Other traditional Christmas wishes are, "Kellemes Karácsonyi Ünnepeket " which means "Abundant Christmas Holidays" or "Karácsonyi Üdvözlet" which means "Christmas Greetings".
Adding a wish for a happy new year to your greeting, you might say, "Kellemes Karácsonyi Ünnepeket és Boldog Újévet!" which means, "Pleasant Christmas celebrations and a Happy New Year!". If you'd like to hear how to pronounce that last phrase, click here.

The Hungarian word for Christmas, Karácsony, has an interesting origin. According to Charles Dombi, webmaster of, the story goes like this:
"The origin and meaning of the Hungarian word for Christmas, Karácsony, has its roots in ancient pre-Christian (pagan) culture and religious beliefs. It is associated with the most important celebration of pagan peoples, that of the winter solstice. It was an ancient Hungarian custom to celebrate the event with the releasing of falcons which were called 'kerecsen solyom' - 'solyom' means falcon, and 'kerecsen' refers to the type of falcon. Since ancient times, birds of prey have had special symbolic significance, and in the ancient Near Eastern civilizations, the falcon was associated with the sun or the sun-god. This tradition has been preserved by the ancient Magyars (Hungarians) and their ethno-linguistic relatives. The Hungarian word for Christmas, 'Karácsony' is therefore derived from the word 'kerecsen'."
For more on the origin of the word for Christmas in the Hungarian language, see the Hungarian article on the web entitled Karácsony szavunk eredetéről és jelentéséről.

If you'd like to learn how to celebrate the Advent and Christmas seasons in a traditionally Hungarian way, you might enjoy browsing the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Museum's webpage on Christmas in Hungary. It includes an introduction to Christmas in Hungary and provides many links to explore.


In Croatian, the equivalent of "Merry Christmas" is "Sretan Bozic". If you want to get a little more specific, you might say, ""Sretan i Blagoslovljen Božić! Nadam se da ce vam nadolazeća godina donijeti mnogo radosti, mira i sreće." This means, "Have a blessed and joyful Christmas! Hope this coming year will bring you and your family a lot of joy, peace and luck."

If you are interested in learning more about the Christmas celebrations of the Croatian people, you might enjoy reading an article posted online on the Croatian World Network website entitled Croatian Christmas Traditions by James Monti. The article was published in the Advent 2006 edition of the Catholic devotional magazine Magnificat. The focus is on the faith traditions of the Croatian people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. As Monti states in his article, "The strong sense of family characterizing Croatian Christmas customs serves as a reminder of the joy of the Holy Family at the birth of Christ and the future joy of heaven."


In the tradition of my Hungarian and Croatian ancestors, I wish you...

Boldog Karácsonyt and Sretan Bozic!

This article is part of a series written in celebration of the Advent and Christmas seasons. It will be included as part of the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2009 Day 9: Grab Bag. Make a visit to Thomas MacEntee's GeneaBloggers website for some additional inspiration to get yourself in the holiday spirit!

The article is based on several others that originally appeared here at 100 Years in America:
The first was included in Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2007.


  1. What wonderful research, I never really thought about researching Christmas where my ancestor came from, but then I am not as fortunate as you. My ancestors have been here many years.
    Thanks for sharing. I love learning more about other countries.

  2. Thank you for those informations! I can't understand Hungarian yet, so I would hardly find out the origin of the word Karácsonyt (one of the first that I learnt). ...however nowadays I should say Kellemes Húsvéti Ünnepeket! (Could it be more hard to remember?! ;) )

  3. Lisa, what an interesting story! I had never heard about the falcon. Unfortunately the links to the original Hungarian article are broken. do you know of any other references?
    Kellemes Karácsonyi ünnepeket kívánok !

  4. Thanks for your comment. All of the links are now working except the Cleveland Hungarian Heritage Museum's webpage on Christmas in Hungary. In the meantime, the link takes you to their main page. I'm hoping they will update their site soon. Thank for stopping by!


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