The period between Epiphany (January 6) and Lent is a time for masques, parties and a general debauchery in most countries with a Catholic history. Although these dates are set by the liturgical calendar, most of its traditions have roots in pagan celebrations of winter’s end. The biggest parties fall on the last three days best known as Carnival around the world, but in Hungary the whole period is called Farsang.
…The origins of the word Carnival are disputed. It may have come from the Italian “carne levare”, to remove meat. Or the Latin “carne vale”, farewell to meat. Some say it originates from “CarnusNavalis” a festival thatmarked the beginning of the sailing season. The Hungarian word Farsang however most probably came from the German for the night before fasting, rather than from a Latin root.
…In Hungary, Farsang used to be a time for weddings, as celebrations could not be held during Lent. Many superstitions aimed to help girls find and seduce the right man. According to one, if a girl went to the cemetery at midnight the night before Valentine’s Day, she would see her future husband. And if she ate an apple with 9 seeds and then slipped these in the man’s pocket, his love was guaranteed.
…Many Carnival traditions are inspired by the medieval belief that when the days get shorter the Sun itself is growing weaker and evil spirits come to life. People would dress in costumes and hold noisy parties to chase away the demons, the cold and the dark, often burning effigies of witches. Lighting bonfires was also believed to give strength to the Sun and help the return of spring.
…Valentine’s Day cards have already been sent in Britain in the 18th century, but the practice became truly popular in Victorian times with lower postal rates and mass-produced cards. In America, the first mass-produced Valentine was sold in 1847 by Esther Howland, who imported lace and floral decorations from for her designs. Today it is estimated that 190 million cards are sent each year in the US.
…Although Valentine’s Day in its current form is an American import to Hungary named after a Christian saint, feasts and traditions of love and renewal associated with this day go back thousands of years. The Roman Lupercalia, a celebration of fertility started on February 14 and the Romans also believed that birds mated on this day, in Hungary this was believed of sparrows in particular.