Written by Wendy Hooke
According to astrology, my star sign is a hopeless romantic. I am a true Libran – in love with love, and always daydreaming about happy endings. I still have old love letters tied up in a red ribbon. I believe in love at first sight. Sleeping Beauty is my favourite fairy tale for that reason, being saved by a prince, waking up to true love’s kiss, riding off into the sunset together and all that ardour, it’s irresistible.
So, it shouldn’t be a surprise when I say that Valentine’s Day is one of my favourite days in the year, and since it’s only a few weeks away, I have been dropping (not so) subtle hints to my significant other about how we should celebrate it. Which got me thinking about how this day for love and romance came to be.
It might surprise you to know that Valentine’s Day wasn’t always marked by gifts of chocolates, roses and candlelit dinners. The familiar traditions associated with it have only evolved during the last two centuries or so. In fact, it’s history is quite dark and murky, with origins dating back to the Roman Empire and a martyred Christian priest who defied the Emperor Claudius II by continuing to secretly perform marriages for soldiers, until he was caught, thrown into jail, and finally beheaded on 14th February 270 AD.
He was made a Saint by the Catholic Church and originally St Valentine’s Day was a holy day of commemoration. It did not become synonymous with romantic love until the Middle Ages, when Henry VIII declared it a holiday in 1537. The day was further popularised by love struck poets who took up their quills to write sonnets of admiration, waxing lyrically to the object of their affection. These verses were surreptitiously passed to the loved one inside a modest valentine. (Lavish cards decorated with lace, ribbons and cupids didn’t become popular until the mid-nineteenth century.)
Surprisingly, chocolate was not widely associated with Valentine’s Day until the Victorian period, when Richard Cadbury created a heart-shaped “Fancy Box” of chocolates in 1868. Once the chocolates were eaten, the boxes were used to store love letters, lockets of hair, tokens of affection and treasured keepsakes by sentimental Victorian ladies.
The global allure of chocolate as a Valentine’s Day gift is phenomenal. In USA, $1b is spent on a chocolate gift for Valentine’s Day alone and I’m sure we’re all extremely grateful to Mr Cadbury for the extra inches we gain on the 14th February each year.
Flowers were a popular way to pass on non-verbal meanings in the eighteenth century, and the occasion of Valentine’s Day was no exception.
The etiquette and expected behaviours of the Victorian era prohibited outright flirtation and certain topics of conversation, so subtle “floral” messages were used as a means to overcome these strict limitations. Several “floral” dictionaries were published to explain floriography – the secret language and meaning of flowers and fragrant herbs – which not only included a meaning but also alternative negative meanings, depending on how the arrangement was organised, displayed, delivered and what other flowers were included. Sounds thrilling but incredibly complicated. No wonder they needed a dictionary!
Red roses needed no translation, then or now. The flower of true love and passion, roses had long been associated with the goddess Venus or Aphrodite, their beauty was immortalised by Shakespeare, pondered by Oscar Wilde, and popularised the Scottish poet Robbie Burns, who so eloquently declared his “love’s like a red, red rose” in the mid-1700s.
If your relationship is in early days, it might be too early to make a sweeping declaration, like Mr Burns,’ about how you feel. A dozen red roses might make the object of your affection feel awkward. So if you’re looking for something a little different, why not start your own tradition and give a bouquet of succulents?
A great alternative to the traditional bouquet of red roses is an arrangement of colourful succulents, ideal for someone who prefers a more contemporary Valentine. And, according to modern floriography, succulents mean “enduring”.
It’s very easy to say an enduring “I love you”, especially if you pot up a succulent planter, glass globe or terrarium yourself. View my how to video for inspiration and see how quick and easy it is to create a unique, one of a kind succulent Valentine. You could also give a quirky and unique arrangement of succulents planted in a striking Zebra planter, a whale or a tiger (insert photo or hyperlink). And if you want to make it more romantic, pot up an arrangement in a heart-shaped planter, just like the one available here (insert hyperlink).
Succulents will outlast the fleeting beauty of flowers, make a less formal statement than long stem red roses, are easy to care for, and are thoughtful and special without being soppy. They’re a colourful permanent addition to his work desk or her coffee table, and are an enduring, daily reminder of you and your admiration.
Borrowing from the famous quote from Peanuts creator Charles M Schulz, “All you need is love. But a few succulents now and then don’t hurt.”