Today, giving flowers is something we do for many reasons – to show someone we care about them, to extend sympathy, or to encourage someone. When did we actually start doing this, tough? When did giving flowers to others actually begin?
In the Beginning
There is no definable starting point to when we began giving flowers. In fact, it likely dates back into the misty depths of prehistory. It is possible that we’ve always given one another flowers for one reason or another. Evidence has been discovered of humans giving flowers to the dead that dates back 60,000 years. Whatever the case, there is no definable starting point, no single “aha!” moment when giving flowers became something that human beings did.
While there might be no defined starting point, the use of flowers as gifts is highly visible all the way back through ancient cultures. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and ancient Chinese all gave one another flowers for different reasons. Flowers were highly important for religious purposes, and were used in rites and rituals for thousands of years. They played central roles in cultural myths, even creation myths, and became a way for people to communicate (the language of flowers is called floriography).
The Middle Ages
By the Middle Ages, giving flowers had been codified and formalized into something that we might not recognize today. The language of flowers made it so that a giver could communicate almost any message with the right flowers and the right arrangement. This only grew more complex in the Victorian period, where meanings were given not only to flowers and flower colors, but to the position of flowers in an arrangement, or even in a painting depicting the flowers.
For instance, a bouquet of red roses, given upside down, showed anger, displeasure, or even hatred, rather than love. A significant number of books were written during this period to help people understand the complex language of flowers. The problem was that not all the books agreed on specific meanings and connotations – one author might attribute a particular emotion to a specific flower presented in one way, while another would have a completely different meaning assigned.
Over time, the byzantine language of flowers has become simplified, evolving from something confusingly complex to what we know today.
Flower Giving Today
We owe our notion of modern flower gifting to the Victorians – we exchange flowers to communicate our feelings. Other things have evolved, and changed, as well. For instance, it was once unthinkable for a woman to give flowers to a man, but that has become more acceptable today. Even the types of flowers considered acceptable for specific occasions has changed – you’ll see roses used to communicate any emotion imaginable, from romantic love to sorrow over the loss of a loved one, as an example.
Flower giving remains alive and well today, and it is an incredible way to tell someone what you’re feeling.