The practice of giving flowers as gifts is rooted far back in history. Ancient Egyptian and Chinese writings record many examples of flower-giving and flowers associated with burials date back even earlier. But giving flowers as tokens of affection, in the way we do today, did not become widespread practice until the Middle Ages.
Flowers are highly symbolic and would be chosen to convey specific messages to the recipient. Any fan of Shakespeare will recall Ophelia’s poignant distribution of flowers just before her tragic drowning in ‘Hamlet’. The mad Ophelia gave out rosemary for remembrance; columbines, associated with unfaithfulness in love; rue, which symbolised sorrow and repentance; and daisies for deception to those around her who had betrayed her in their different ways. She claimed the violets, which were associated with faithful love, had all withered when her father had died, and whose cruel death had brought on her madness.
The fascination with flowers and their meanings reached new heights in Victorian times when many books were published on the subject. Courtship was a much subtler business then than it is today and giving bouquets of carefully chosen flowers conveyed a wealth of meaning to the recipient. The red rose became the most powerful symbol of ardour and retains its significance even today, making it the flower of choice for lovers, especially on St Valentine’s Day.
But gifts of flowers are not only welcome on Valentine’s Day; they are given and received with pleasure on birthdays, anniversaries or any special occasion. They are given to cheer up the sick, comfort the bereaved and pay tribute to lost loved-ones. Lilies and Irises are traditional funeral flowers as they signify devotion and faith as well as resurrection and safe passage.
Giving flowers can brighten any day and makes it special. We take them to people’s houses when we visit or give them on first dates as a peace offering or an ice-breaker. The fact is that flowers can speak volumes for us and express our sentiments often far more eloquently than ordinary language.