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Roses have been cultivated for 5000 years and from early times have been associated with romance.
Confusingly, I'm told a red rose is the official flower of the British Labour Party: perhaps it is trying to get across a message of loving the masses?
Back to the romantic, Robbie Burns is often credited for sparking the notion of sending red roses, for there can be few lines better known than ``My luve is like a red, red rose''. It was published in 1794, just two years before the poet died, aged just 37.
But Burns was just picking up on a much older tradition, for as noted, roses were the flower of romance for centuries before he
For instance, in the Old Testament Book of Solomon, written prior to the 3rd century BC, a bride says, ``I am the rose of Sharon.''
The Romans loved roses, the flowers of Bacchus, god of wine and joy, of Cupid and of Venus, so it is easy to see how they became symbols of romance.
So how did Valentine, a Catholic priest, get in on the act? He was a bishop during the time of the Roman Emperor Claudius the Goth, who outlawed marriage as he felt young men would refuse to go off to fight to maintain his empire if they had wives.
Leaving aside the improbability of a Roman jailer or his daughter being able to read and write, it is claimed that from this last note arose the idea of sending love messages on St Valentine's feast day.
Sending decorated cards came much later but by the 16th century, they were quite common among those who could read and write. However, it was the introduction of the Penny Post in England in 1840 that really put Valentine's cards within the reach of ordinary people. The practice took off throughout the Western world and Americans reportedly send 1billion cards annually.
Although chocolates have become a popular gift, there is nothing like a red rose and for those who want to go the whole hog and buy a potted bush, the ideal is one of the high-scent varieties like Munstead Wood or the old Etoile de Hollande.
If florists' offerings have more appeal, here are a couple of tips: If the shop has no red roses, try red carnations, as they also say, ``I love you'', while pink flowers, suggesting gentle or growing affection, could be equally appropriate as pink has always been the colour of romance. In the language of flowers so loved by the Victorians, pink roses denote grace, gentleness and
And if the florists have run out of roses, carnations in pink or red make good substitutes.
Finally, if you get it completely wrong and miss celebrating St Valentine on February 14, the Catholic Church has several other saints of that name, so there could be an opportunity to break out the red roses on November 3, feast day of Valentine of Viterbo.