Roses for Valentine’s Day: what do they symbolize and why do they come by the dozen?
The origin story of Valentine’s Day could not be more romantic. In Rome, around 269 AD, Saint Valentine was secretly performing marriages for soldiers, against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II who felt it would weaken the young men. Arrested and imprisoned, the saint fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and before he was executed on February 14, he sent her a love note signed “Your Valentine.” Whether the legend is true or not, St. Valentine became known as a martyr for love, and the holiday is celebrated all around the world.
In the fifth century, Pope Gelasius made St. Valentine’s Day official, and in the 14th century, knights began making chivalrous gestures of courtly love to ladies in the form of cards and gifts on February 14th. Geoffrey Chaucer immortalizes Valentine’s Day in his poem “Parliament of Foules,” believed to be the first written record of its association with romance. He describes a flock of birds who choose their mates for the year on “seynt valentynes day.”
But how did roses come to be the traditional flower for this day? It wasn’t until the 1700s that roses, an ancient flower from East Asia, started to make their way to Europe. Red roses in particular began to be offered on Valentine’s Day, as they were associated with Isis, Aphrodite and Venus, the ancient goddesses of love. Red roses with their thorns symbolize enduring romantic love; that love can be both painful and everlasting.
Other rose colours have specific meanings too, stemming from conservative Victorian times when floriography, or the language of flowers, was used to communicate one’s true feelings. White roses symbolize innocence, while a mix of red and white roses means unity. Orange roses send a message of passion, and pale pink represents grace. Lavender roses have come to symbolize love in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as enchantment and love at first sight. Beware if your love interest gives you yellow roses—universally known as symbols of friendship rather than romantic interest. Perhaps the most romantic choices of all are a mixed dozen roses, saying “You mean everything to me,” or a single long-stemmed rose that sends a simple message: “I love you deeply.”