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Even in the middle of a Budapest winter there’s still a bright ray of sunshine and hope for warmer days ahead with the approach of February 14 – Valentine’s Day! Yes, that herald of springtime and romance is nearly upon us again, and it’s time to start thinking about wonderful ways to celebrate this coming rebirth with your favorite partner. Expats and Hungarians alike can feel the vibrations on every street and square as romance is in the air once more in the City on the Danube.
Each year on February 14th, people exchange cards, candy, gifts or flowers with their special “valentine.” The day of romance we call Valentine’s Day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century, but has its origins in the Roman holiday Lupercalia.
Over the centuries, the holiday evolved, and by the 18th century, gift-giving and exchanging cards on Valentine’s Day had become common in England. Special, hand-made valentine cards made of lace and ribbons, and featuring cupids and hearts, eventually spread to the American colonies. The tradition of Valentine’s cards did not become widespread in the United States, however, until the 1850s, when Esther Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and native of Worcester, Mass., began mass-producing them. Today, of course, the holiday has become a booming commercial success. According to the Greeting Card Association, 25% of all cards sent each year are valentines.
Celebrations and traditions are a touch different in Hungary, but the one thing they have in common is how to express your feelings for that special person in your life. Obviously, one way is to give that someone the perfect gift that best shows how much you care for them.
In Hungary it is generally only young married couples and young lovers who exchange gifts on this day, while in America there is a card for just about every love connection from couples to grandparents to their grandchildren. Americans do so love their cards. Hungarian cards say a few things differently than what Americans will find in Hallmark shops, sentiments like: “To the world’s most adorable blue-eyed real man” or “From your little sex mouse.” Other expressions are “Send word to the country hag that I love her” or “I wish my pocket piggy a joyous future from his ever-loving pocket kitty.”
As far as gifts go, naturally there are still the old favorites, such as chocolates, flowers, lingerie, gift baskets and bottles of perfume. The unimaginative lover might go with one of these tried-and-true items, but especially these days a modern Hungarian or expat might pass on the cliché chocolate and frilly underthings and consider something really interesting. For those discerning paramours, then, here are some seriously smart Valentine’s Day ideas for that wonderful man or woman in your life:
1. Host a chic brunch for your friends on Valentine’s Day, or the weekend leading up to it. As a different decoration, fill clear balloons with glitter or confetti (and yes, then you’ll have to blow them up and hang them around the room; limp balloons will just give your party a strange, but festive, air).
2. Rent old Hollywood films to see how romance was really done back in the day. Shake a little Himalayan pink salt on popcorn while watching your movie (it’ll give your health a boost, too!)
3. Get a henna tattoo with your valentine’s name on it (or one that says “love sucks” if that’s where your head is.)
4. Experiment with varying shades of pink on your lips and your nails. So modern!
5. Brownies with candy hearts? Yes, please!
6. Make a giant Oreo skillet cookie together—it’s only two ingredients.
7. Make some heart-shaped chocolate-covered strawberries, to be accompanied by champagne. (A handful of these sensual yummies and you can forget about the movie)
8. Make pretzels dipped in pink, red, and purple sugar. Yum!
9. Not a sweets person? Heart-shaped pepperoni pizza might do the trick, maybe accompanied by some Irish red beer.
10. Freeze flowers in ice cubes for a gorgeous twist on cocktails. Or make some heart-shaped ice cubes with pomegranate seeds inside!
11. Make fortune cookies out of red fruit roll-ups. Include some of those witty sayings.
12. Give your sweetie printable ‘naughty’ vouchers; a little cliché, but hey, it’s February 14.
13. Whip up a batch of pink cocktails on the only day of the year it’s acceptable to admit how much you love them.
14. If all else fails, there’s always the booze bouquet.