“If I had a rose for every time I thought of you, I’d be picking roses for a lifetime.” — Swedish proverb
Valentine’s Day originally began as a Christian holiday that honored multiple early saints named Valentinus, or Valentine.
According to one account, Saint Valentine of Rome was a priest who was imprisoned for ministering to fellow Christians, who were persecuted under the rule of the Roman Empire. During his imprisonment, Valentine was said to have miraculously healed the jailer’s blind daughter, who he later fell in love with. Before he was executed, he wrote her a farewell letter signed “Your Valentine.”
Valentine’s Day was first celebrated as a romantic holiday in 18th-century England, and lovers quickly adopted many of the traditions we still practice today; exchanging flowers, candy, and greeting cards that came to be known simply as “Valentines.”
More roses are sold for Valentine’s Day than at any other time of the year, but why are these flowers the star of this romantic holiday? There are hundreds of beautiful flowers found all around the world, so there must be a reason that the rose has become such an enduring symbol of love and beauty, right?
Well, not necessarily. It seems that the loveliness of the rose speaks for itself so well that no one has ever needed any other reason to associate it with romance. People have been admiring roses for as long as there have been roses to admire, and it seems only fitting that a flower loved for thousands of years should be such an important part of a day that celebrates romance.
Then again, the rose’s connection to Valentine’s Day may also have something to do with this familiar poem, originally found in Gammer Gurton’s Garland, a collection of English nursery rhymes published in 1866:
The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.
Roses Can Say It All
Roses have long been an important and versatile symbol in many Western cultures, appearing in everything from art and literature to film and music. Most of us think romantic thoughts as soon as we hear or see anything about roses, but the emotions and ideas roses represent can be surprisingly complex.
During the Victorian era in England, France, and America, flowers were used to convey a variety of messages to friends and loved ones at a time when etiquette dictated that being blunt or plain-spoken about one’s affections simply wasn’t proper. Entire dictionaries were published on floriography (“the language of flowers”) to help people decode the meaning behind everything from individual flowers and colors to entire bouquets and how they were specifically arranged.
Roses were a popular choice among floriographers due to their innate beauty and variety of colors, all of which had different meanings. There has been a revival of interest in floriography in recent years, and the messages these roses send have remained mostly the same:
- Red — love, romance, beauty
- Pink — grace, admiration, joy
- Orange — passion, excitement, enthusiasm
- Yellow — friendship, happiness, good health
- White — innocence, purity, new beginnings
- Purple — love at first sight, enchantment
- Peach — gratitude, appreciation
You can also mix multiple colors to send a deeper and more complex message, such as the message of “unity” conveyed by a combination of red and white roses like the arrangement seen here. Whether you’re in a new relationship or have been together for decades, sending a message of love and unity is a great way to reinforce your bond with your beloved.