Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Before we know it Valentine’s Day will be here. Like many western holidays, this event is an amalgamation of pagan and Christian customs.
Valentine’s Day is loosely based on a Roman festival called Lupercalia. This was basically a fertility rite in which a specialized group of priests known as the Luperci carried out their duties during this event. Along with a sacrifice of selected animals, there were other customs associated with Lupercalia. One was a ritual in which young men drew the names of the maidens in the village, and the couples then pledged to be each other’s love for a certain amount of time, usually for the day or year. This lottery was held on February 14th because the Romans believed this date was a good omen for love, and could lead to marriage.
Later, when Christianity entered the scene, there were two Catholic priests called St. Valentine. They both became Christian martyrs, and actually died on the same day. As to which one was the one that first sent a valentine as his farewell message isn’t clear. In any case, St. Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christian martyrs, and sent the message “from your Valentine.” That’s how people came to exchange Valentines today.
In America, we’ve been celebrating the holiday since the 1700’s, but the custom of sending the valentines wasn’t commonly done until the greeting card manufacturers had the capacity to mass-produce these tokens of love.
If you visit the National Museum of American History, which is part of the Smithsonian, you can see a wonderful collection of historical valentines. In 2004, the collection included over 44,000 valentines.
Valentine’s Day has long been a day in which people exchanged tokens of love.
Regarding the role of flowers on Valentine’s Day, that seems to have dated from the time of King Henry IV of France. His daughter was said to have organized a Valentine’s party, and distributed bunches of flowers for her friends to give to the men they had chosen as their valentines.
Though men make the majority of purchases for this holiday, women make a considerable number. In addition to buying items for their spouses or significant others, the women also buy gifts for other people in their lives, including mothers, daughters, and other relatives. Women are more likely to buy potted plants or dried flowers than men. The majority of men usually purchase cut flowers.
Today, many of the flowers we give on Valentine’s Day come from Ecuador. Over 30,000 boxes of cut flowers are shipped to the U.S. for this occasion.
Though roses continue to be the standard by which other Valentine’s flowers are measured, mixed bouquets are slowly catching on. This has continued to increase in the last ten years.
There are many kinds of cut flowers that are suitable. Among these are alstroemeria, daffodils, gerbera daisies, lilies, lisianthus, and tulips.
In addition to cut flowers, a number of other plants are very suitable for this occasion. These include potted cyclamens. They have beautiful decorative foliage and lots of blooms. These come in a wide range of colors. Assuming the pots are kept in fairly cool rooms, the flowers can last for several weeks. Cyclamen should be kept away from drafty places.
For this holiday, you can usually find a good assortment of miniature roses, gerberas, African violets, azaleas, and other flowering plants in decorative Valentine’s pots.
I’ve even seen bromeliads sold in beautiful red, heart-shaped containers. Commonly called air plants, these lovely plants require very little care, and should bring months of beauty to the indoors.
If you look at local nurseries and garden centers you may find some bleeding hearts for sale. These perennials have tiny, perfectly heart shaped blooms in a beautiful shade of pink. When grown outdoors, these perennials usually bloom in mid spring through the summer months, but greenhouses have a way of forcing them into bloom early just for the holiday. Once the blooms fade, you'll probably be able to plant them outdoors in a shady spopt. I haven't tried this with bleeding heart, but that's what I always do when I force bulbs into bloom. So I'm assuming there is a chance it will work for this hardy perennial.
For Valentine’s Day, special baskets and pots decorated with hearts are often used for potted plants. In other cases, the pots are sometimes wrapped in special decorative papers or foil.
Potted topiary plants trained in the shape of hearts are widely available during the holiday. These are a perfect gift. They’re longer lasting than flowers, and are especially appreciated by anyone interested in gardening.
In addition to fresh or dried flowers, you can also give very special items like jewelry made with roses. I have also seen fresh-cut roses offered for sale that have been dipped in 24 karat gold. They cost a little more than a dozen roses, but on the other hand they will last forever.