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Valentine’s Day and red roses: Exploring fun facts about the flower’s inextricable links to 14 February

Valentine’s Day and red roses: Exploring fun facts about the flower’s inextricable links to 14 February

donutdontu

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Quite a huge fuss was kicked up in the office last week about the capitalism that drives Valentine’s Day (actually it was largely a monologue from one loud singleton). "Valentine's Day is a scam! Don’t bother dining out on Valentine’s Day!”, we were told time and again. Cue cricket-like silence, and blank stares among the rest of the team. 

Exaggerations aside, I’m generally of the opinion that people should feel free to spend their money however they like. But here, I couldn’t help but agree that the essence of a day of love is regularly buried under the pressure of (expensive) gifting - especially when one considers that the traditional centrepieces of 14 February are rose bouquets. 

01.thumb.jpg.f683279dcd9ff4fd7efe6ab31b5cdf3e.jpgAssuming that the majority of flower-receivers do not bother drying them out, spending on something that will wilt and be chucked in the trash, sounds downright wasteful. Furthermore, emptier wallets do not always translate to fuller hearts. 

Again, however, I fully admit to having no right to making meaningful statements on what people should or shouldn’t do on Valentine’s. (Don’t take any love-related advice from someone who’s single; the Mycarforum Blog - in my eyes at least - is also not a soapbox.) 

As such, I’ve decided to let curiosity and fascination guide my exploration of the topic - and in particular, explore why, how and in what ways the idea of the rose has become the centrepiece of Valentine’s Day. 

(Considering all this is coming from a person who’s practically been single his entire life, bear with me too, if much of what is written here is already excruciatingly-common knowledge.) 

The genesis of red roses 

As with most objects of significance, it appears that it wasn’t just a single event that set widespread appreciation for the rose in motion.

Naturally, Greek mythology appears to have had a role, with this narrative seeing Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty playing the protagonist.

02.thumb.jpg.83b732b9a3f353c7f3b5dad9485da384.jpgThe first red rose was apparently created when Aphrodite, in her attempt to save her lover Adonis from a murder plot, ran through a rose bush and cut her ankle on its thorns, with her blood turning a white rose red. Romantic, yes, but more in a tragic than idyllic way.

In more traceable, recent history, red roses have also been associated with one Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an English writer and poet from the Victorian era.

03.thumb.jpg.2eb0346b814b426ce2e6563abeb8768e.jpgTIME Magazine does a far more comprehensive (and better-written) writeup of how she popularised the romanticisation of flowers and secret love letters - but the interesting tldr is that she had accidentally misinterpreted the ‘language of flowers’ in the Turkish language. (The whole idea of secret messages was not rooted in sentimentality or symbolism as she had thought, but um, rhyming.)

Anyhow, given the combination of her status and the more restricted roles of women during the Victorian era, the practice took flight. 

Above all, of course, there are far simpler explanations for “Why red?”. Colour psychology tells us that red is often associated with emotions such as passion, love, sexuality and anger - all suitable for Valentine’s Day and relationships on the whole.  

The economy of red roses

Retail prices of flowers - red roses included, naturally - rise during Valentine’s Day. That should not come as a shocker. 

What might be shocking, however, is taking in the exact amount spent on them in a year. According to research and estimations done by a professor at Boston University, roughly 2.8 billion cut roses are sold in the country on Valentine’s Day alone, translating to about US$3billion spent ($4.04billion in SGD) for the occasion. 

4.thumb.jpg.97ca447fb5b82970e12691199a2f73f1.jpgThat’s a lot of money for businesses. 

As someone that doesn’t buy flowers, I shall not claim to have even the slightest idea of how much they cost - but this writeup by Value Champion from 2022 states that most bouquets can set you back between $70 to $150.

Cheaper alternatives apparently go down to $20 - which, as already mentioned, is still quite a fair bit of money for an item that will perish in a matter of days (assuming you’re not the kind to put the effort into drying them out). 

The environmental impact of red roses

As you’ve probably noticed, Singapore’s streets are not lined with rose beds (in fact, this probably applies for most of the globe).

Roses stem from a few main exporter nations - including the Netherlands, Colombia and Ecuador - and they need to be carefully and quickly transported so that they remain fresh for whichever lucky girl (or guy) you’re passing them to at dinner time. This, in turn, involves quite a number of planes and refrigerated trucks.

05.thumb.jpg.3068ab2c3b36907c759efe9eba9c09b7.jpgA recent op-ed by The Washington Post included this amazing interactive infographic that illustrates the journey that roses take after being harvested. This is effective enough on its own and I won’t belabour the point, but I do like the phrasing of this comment by the writer, regarding the relentless pace of the race to get roses to florists/supermarkets during the season:

This fast-moving game of romantic commerce never stops.

The single-most interesting takeaway from the article, however, is the revelation that a bouquet of flowers - comprising Dutch roses; Kenyan gypsophila - in a British supermarket can end up being more carbon-intensive than an 8 oz. cut of steak from a Brazilian rainforest. I’m sure there are further intricacies to the stats, but still, that’s food for thought. 

On the flip side, climate change appears to be looming over the Valentine’s day rose too. 

Rising temperatures and drought have apparently impacted rose exporters including Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador, in turn, affecting when roses bloom

Then there’s also what happens after Valentine’s Day is over: Wasted bouquets. Back in 2022, an online florist in the U.K. had already noted double-digit wastage on red rose bouquets post-14 Feb. The article above talking about the impact of climate change also notes that a huge and unnecessary spike in demand for red roses is created every V-Day.

Non-floral alternative(s) to the red rose

Considering all this, the logical course correction from hereon is that less attention should perhaps be poured into red roses. And on this note, it’s actually been nice to see that people have indeed been turning to more creative alternatives.

It’s not just less resource-intensive/environmentally-friendly floral options, too, though those are good places start. Yahoo News did a delightful writeup back in 2020 about how younger Singaporeans were turning their backs on red roses, and instead turning towards other alternatives, one of which includes… edible bouquets.

Dining with my Valentine’s dates on that 14 February evening (my dad, mum, and sister, to be clear), I also noticed something interesting on Sushiro’s menu:

photo_6237595740469836068_y.thumb.jpg.cbfd16d91a883426fba454abd73ff6c0.jpgImage courtesy of Instagram/@sushirosingapore 

For what they were worth, the salmon roses were quite reasonably priced, but it’s worth noting that many of the edible bouquets are incredibly expensive. This store, for example, lists an 8-piece har cheong gai bouquet for $90 (although to their credit, one has to factor in that there are still flowers, on top of labour costs). 

I fully expect that these bouquets beg the question of why one wouldn’t just head on to a proper restaurant/eatery and do without the fancy coloured paper and ribbons instead. Still, I think a counter-argument can be made that it's not everyday that one gets a bouquet of nuggets or chicken wings/drumlets nicely wrapped up, and the entire process of being a recipient could ignite some laughter and amusement - both of which are harder to put a price. 

Food for thought

Considering that so much of what drives the economy of flowers on 14 February appears to be socially constructed, I don’t think it’s controversial (nor groundbreaking) for us to routinely question what exactly is important in the celebration of love.

Genuine flower-lovers shouldn’t be punished for seeking joy and delight in receiving and beholding beautiful bouquets. Still, the question of whether everyone has such innate floral appreciation remains.

06.thumb.jpg.90384f340b4a976a8d1557e1476cbd9c.jpgOnce again, this isn’t a sermon on what couples should or should not do (or buy) during Valentine’s, but an invitation to reflect on what all of us truly value.

In fact, if everyone is aligned and prudent with their finances, a bit of extra money spent every 14th of February can surely go a long way into injecting some much-needed colour into a relationship - whether or not that colour is red. If so, who’s to deny a couple of these added joys? I'd just venture a guess that flowers don't always come out on top. 

- Matt

All images taken from Unsplash, unless stated otherwise 




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Did anyone give BB roses?

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