So who was this Valentine person who is now responsible for the global production of 250 million roses for a single day and a billion pound industry? One account from the 1400s describes Valentine as a temple priest who was beheaded near Rome by the emperor Claudius II, because he helped Christian couples wed when it had been decreed that single men made better soldiers and therefore should not be married.
The actual identity of St Valentine remains a mystery as there are a dozen possible candidates for the title, one being a woman and another a Pope. ‘Valentinus’ (from the Latin word for worthy, strong or powerful) has been applied to many martyrs and so there have been many saints bearing the name.
Whoever he (or she) may have been St Valentine is the Patron Saint of Beekeepers and epilepsy, as well as Lovers, engaged couples and happy marriages of course. However you can also call on assistance in times of plague, fainting and traveling. The flower-adorned skull of St. Valentine of Rome is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
Why is Valentine’s Day celebrated in February and why do we gift roses even though they are not at all seasonal?
It is generally believed that the Christian church decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in order to cover up the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which was also known as the fertility festival. Lupercalia was originally a sacred gathering of Roman priests that went on from February 13th to the 15th. The pagan ritual included sacrificing a dog and a goat, as well as walking through the streets covering women with the hide in order to promote fertility. There was also a tradition of women placing their names into an urn for bachelors to pick from. The woman’s name they drew would be their match for the duration of the festival, and often paired couples would marry.
Since fertility was also associated with agriculture, flowers became the Valentine’s Day gift of choice. For centuries flowers have symbolised fertility, love, marriage and romance. The Romans, who turned Aphrodite into their goddess of love Venus, offered the rose as her symbol of love and beauty. So when Valentine’s Day became the mainstream holiday we know today, the rose was an obvious choice for the most fitting gift.
The history of giving your loved one Valentine’s Day flowers comes from the old-fashioned custom of sending floral bouquets to pass on non-verbal messages. Introduced in the 18th century by Charles II of Sweden, each flower had a specific meaning attached to it, making it possible to have an entire conversation using only flowers. Floriography (language of flowers) is a means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers. Meaning has been attributed to flowers for thousands of years, and some form of floriography has been practiced in traditional cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.
In 1415, Charles Duke of Orleans, wrote to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. King Henry V hired a writer to compose a valentine’s note to Catherine of Valois, leading love-letter writing to be associated with the day. Chaucer and Shakespeare both romanticised the holiday, increasing its popularity enormously. It is now estimated that 1 billion cards are sent worldwide.
Did you know? 6 million couples are likely to get engaged on Valentine’s Day and in 2019, 5.4 million households gave their pets valentine gifts.
The demand for roses on Valentine’s Day is huge but you don’t have to be limited to traditional roses. There are many beautiful seasonal flowers available in the UK from tulips and narcissi, to alstroemerias and lilies. If you are eco conscious then you probably don’t want to think of your flowers being flown 4,000 miles, wrapped in plastic and preserved in a chemical cocktail to keep them fresh and perfect, when you can have locally grown flowers from a plot just round the corner.
For an interesting look at the global flower trade it’s worth checking out: https://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/made-on-earth/the-new-roots-of-the-flower-trade/.html
A good place to look for seasonal florists is the Flowers From The Farm network (www.flowersfromthefarm.co.uk) of which Branch-out MK are members. Many growers like us also create bouquets. Seasonal flowers are wonderful but if roses are your still your thing then purchase responsibly by asking for fair trade flowers. For a special occasion like Valentines Day try and buy from a florist because then you will be supporting your local community and that business owner will do a happy little dance!