Ah, St Valentine’s Day. The day when we say it with roses. However, the reason why we do is the polar opposite of romance.
We’re two sleeps away from St Valentine’s Day, the randiest day we celebrate each year. Except maybe for 2018, when it fell on a Wednesday. For a Hallmark holiday, it’s probably the strangest. Named after one of three possible saints (who either a local priest who defied the Roman Empire and was killed, or a bishop who restored the sight of his lover, and was killed, or a missionary who tried to convert Africa, and was, you know), which quickly became more an exercise in consumerism than lovemaking.
In fact, according to the dystopian-sounding National Retail Federation, 54.7% of Americans admitted that Valentine’s Day was nothing more than an excuse to buy worthless tat. As Federation noted in 2018, $2 billion of the $19.2 billion spent on the day will be on flowers, primarily roses. But why? And how did the rose become the ubiquitous symbol of that stupid day?
Well, Big Think has squarely blamed Jane Austen. In 2018, Teodora Zareva wrote: “It was in the 19th century, in Victorian Britain, that flowers, in general, became an important tool for communication. As any Jane Austin fan will tell you, during these times, sharing emotions with other people, especially those that were of interest, was a complicated thing. Social convention frowned upon open flirtation and even upon many forms of a simple conversation.
“One of the workarounds society came up with was floriography, the ‘secret’ language of flowers. People started using different types of flowers and plants to convey messages. And it wasn’t just the type of flowers that mattered but also the way they were arranged, the way they were delivered, and how they were received. Special dictionaries appeared that helped decode those messages.
“According to this language of flowers and plants, the red rose symbolizes love, the marigold grief, and the potato benevolence. But there were other plants that could also mean love, passion, affection, and friendship. Ultimately, the reason why the rose became the chosen one to stand for all that was that it could simply endure a lot.
February, the month of Valentine’s Day, is not the best time for growing flowers north of the equator. So, after the industrial revolution and the commercialization of Valentine’s Day, suppliers had to be able to grow, box, and transport flowers from places like Columbia, Ecuador, Kenya and other African or South American countries. The rose, as it turns out, can withstand all this torture and still look good when you present it to your loved one.”
So the humble rose has little to do with those unique feelings you have for that special someone, and everything to do with how easy they are to farm, ship and pack. Romantic.
Indeed, if the roses have to go in the bin, what alternatives do we have? Well, how about chicken-themed BDSM cookbook? Or edible meat-based underthings, or a threatening candle? Or indeed, if you want this Valentine’s Day to be your last, a zoo in America will let you name a cockroach after your ex and then feed it to one of the residents, which is just lovely.