Soaring inflation is taking the steam out of Hungary's wedding market, supercharged in recent years by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's lavish family support measures, with the number of weddings plunging to a nine-year-low at the start of 2023.
Nationalist Orban, in power since 2010, has launched tax breaks, housing support schemes and cheap loans worth some 5% of economic output per year for newly weds to arrest Hungary's demographic decline, while strongly opposing immigration.
The measures have fuelled a boom in recent years that has lifted Hungary to the top of the European Union matrimony table at 6.9 weddings per 1,000 people in 2020 based on Eurostat figures, the latest comparable statistics.
The impact was so strong that sociologists say Hungary was the only country in the world where the number of weddings did not fall during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
But the situation appears to be changing with Hungary now projected to run the EU's highest average inflation rate at 16.4% this year amid surging food, power and services prices, driving up the cost of nuptials and eroding the value of Orban's support measures.
In January the number of weddings recorded in Hungary fell to 1,230, preliminary data showed - the lowest number since January 2014.
Livia Murinko, a senior research fellow at the Hungarian Demographic Research Institute, says high inflation has contributed to a fall in the number of weddings after the boom years fuelled largely by all the related government handouts.
"Nearly anyone who could potentially get married has already done so," she said. "We did not think that this wedding boom would be so strong and prolonged, but it will now probably return to equilibrium."
Kinga and Sandor Urban-Szabo, who put off their wedding plans due to COVID-19, say their budget for the event has now surged to nearly four times what they were planning to spend in 2020, as the annual inflation rate hit 25.4% - the highest in central Europe.
Others are scaling back their wedding plans or even scrapping receptions altogether. Stunned by the costs, many couples do not even respond to emailed quotes, service providers say.
Mihaly Toth, a master of wedding ceremonies, says the number of couples planning to tie the knot is likely to fall from last year's levels.
"Costs have skyrocketed," Toth said. "This obviously deters many couples from arranging wedding feasts."
Timea Szabo, 23, and her fiance, who got engaged in 2020, were also forced to forego a wedding reception due to the steep rise in costs, with relatives tasked with the preparing the wedding dress and taking photographs.
"We will just have a small family get-together and then go out with some friends for the night," Szabo said. (Writing by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Hugh Lawson)