Advent in Budapest

On December 14, 2019, a Christmas celebration of “Advent in Budapest” festively welcomed a delighted and dignified array of guests to the Embassy of Hungary! The heartwarming evening, amid a glittering Christmas tree, pine garlands looping the room’s perimeter, and Advent wreaths and red ribbons on every table, truly embraced the spirit of the Judeo-Christian holiday, deeply honored in the Hungarian tradition.

All were given a warm welcome by Ms. Zsófia Koncz, the Hungarian Foreign Policy Officer, and by His Excellency László Szabó, MD, Ambassador of Hungary to the United States. Warm greetings were also graciously extended by Sheila Switzer, Program Chair of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), and by Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW President.

In collaboration with the Embassy, Ms. Switzer seemed to outdo her own genius, by creating a brilliant sampling of unique and charming program features. Her tireless efforts with many months of planning and preparing did not go unrewarded. Highly popular and exceptionally well attended, the Advent celebration was proclaimed by at least one guest as “The Event of the Season.” Elegant gowns, formal attire and traditional garb showed a resplendence among those gathered. The Ambassador of Nepal was among the honored guests.

A man of unusual wit and eloquence, Ambassador Szabó captivated the crowd as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies. He narrated an impressive slide show that described Hungary’s social culture and folk customs, its political tradition and national productivity, its geographic and architectural beauty, and the famous contributions of many Hungarian individuals in science, technology, the arts, viticulture, and more. In his remarks, the Ambassador saluted his wife, Dr. Ivonne Szabó, for her many accomplishments and her commitment to family life.

Topping the presentation off was a meaningful ceremony of lighting the Advent wreaths, remembering the messages of faith, hope, joy, and love, represented by each of the four candles. Ms. Zsófia Koncz returned to the microphone to surprise us with her exquisite singing voice, leading us all in robust rounds of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Jingle Bells,” and a folk song in the Hungarian language: “Kis Karacsony, Nagy Karacsony.”

A satisfying and savory dinner buffet featured delicacies of Hungarian cuisine and table wine. Convivial traditional folk music by the Eletfa Hungarian Folk band accompanied our meal. Colorfully clad dancers from the Tisza Ensemble displayed athletic prowess and grace in traditional folk dancing, extending an invitation after dinner for the guests to join in with a folk dance instruction. A fantastic guitar talent in the band, known to be featured at the Kennedy Center, could not be overlooked, neither could be the masterful vibrant leaps and aerial kicks of the leader of the Tisza dance couple.

The dancing joyfully expanded for the remainder of the evening, with contemporary social dances with a Latin flair, spun by a wonderful DJ, who kept much interest going well into the night! In between dances, we were treated to a row of tables offering the option of decorating our own gingerbread cookies with rainbow icing selections and sugar stars, complete with cellophane pouches for taking our creations home.

As the evening concluded, new friendships were formed and a true sense of the Miracle of Christmas abounded. Happily, the spirit of giving at Christmastime carries on, as proceeds from the evening go to charity for the AAFSW Family Crisis Fund.

We wish to thank Ambassador Szabó,  Dr. Ivonne Szabó, Ms. Zsófia Koncz, and especially Cultural Attaché Ms. Emese Gaál, for making this wonderful event possible.

Mary Ellen Diane Hood
AAFSW Associate Member