Do you ever wonder about the differences and similarities between yourself, and others around the world? The diversity in cultures is infinite. Whether it’s related to cuisine, music and the arts, religion, or social practices, all are identifiable components of how we live, and come together as communities.
In fact, some of our oldest traditions involve our relationship with flowers. Think back, for example, to a moment when you were learning history, visiting museums or experiencing other cultures, and all the old paintings you observed. How many of those artists incorporated flowers into their work? The answer is unknown, but it’s safe to say, a significant portion did. The reason is because flowers have historically been, and continue to be, influential within societies and cultures around the world. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these cultural influences.
South Africa’s national flower is the Protea, which represents diversity, change and courage. This flower is named after Proteus, a Greek deity of shapeshifting capabilities. Proteas are so loved that South Africa’s national cricket team uses this flower as their symbol.
In Brazil, it is mostly women who gift and receive flowers. If men were to send flowers, it is most often sent through their wives. When gifting, yellow, pink, and white are the most popular colors with black and purple then being associated with mourning.
Many Asian cultures believe that you should never gift a potted plant as this represents restriction, especially to someone who may be sick. According to their traditions, a potted plant “takes root” which is an expression that means “staying in bed”. For those that are sick, this is not ideal for a quick recovery. Additionally, there are several plants that symbolize powerful meanings. For example, a lotus blossom is thought to bestow peace and harmony at home, while orchids represent weather and prosperity. When choosing the color of flowers, red is often well received as it is believed to bring good fortune.
In Russia, a common birthday gift is one single flower, or an unwrapped bouquet. During an occasion where one wishes to express sympathy, or mourning, carnations, lilies or roses are given in a circular configuration. This arrangement signifies the transition of birth, life, and death to rebirth.
In Germany, the color of flowers is significant for their meanings. White flowers are often displayed at funerals, red flowers symbolize love, yellow and orange signify joy, and blue flowers are for freedom.
Historically, in the times of ancient Rome, brides often carried flowers to scare off evil spirits, and encourage fertility. Several superstitions continue to this day in the Italian culture. For example, roses are never given in the amount of an even number as this is associated with mourning. In fact, most European countries gift roses in an odd number with the exception of Britain, as they have a superstition regarding the number thirteen.
In Portugal, each year on May 1st the Portuguese celebrate Dia do Trabalhador (Worker’s Day), which is a public holiday full of parades and rallies that demonstrate and recognize workers’ rights. Originally, this was a holiday to celebrate the transition to Spring, and to share excitement for the upcoming months. Historically, and to this day, Portuguese place yellow flowers known as “Maias” at their doors, windows, and balconies to protect their homes from evil for the year ahead.
Many Australians are passionate about gardening. They often take pleasure tending to their gardens and visiting florists to order flowers for friends or family. In addition to Roses, Orchids, Lilies and Daisies, Australians have great pride for their national flower, the Golden Wattle. It is believed that this flower symbolizes unity, remembrance and reflection.
Mexico’s diversity of vegetation is cherished within their culture. Since pre-Columbian times, flowers have been used for rituals, making dyes, drinks, crafts, fabrics, sculptures, gastronomy, and medicines. Flowers are displayed at markets, shrines, altars, and within most Mexican homes. Historically, Mayans often brought flowers to altars to please the ancient gods, as many believed these gods came from flowers. Each year during Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, people honor the legacy of those who have died. Part of this celebration involves creating elaborate altars filled with decorated photos, candles and symbolic flowers.
In the United States and Canada, roses are also a symbol of love. In the states, it is common to gift a loved one a dozen roses to show your love and appreciation. Both countries celebrate Mother’s Day with gifting flowers. Canadians often gift an arrangement filled with roses, carnations, or chrysanthemums, while Americans celebrate with an assortment of colorful flowers ranging in all kinds of varieties.
Although this is just a small snippet of the traditions surrounding the use and symbolism of flowers, it is apparent that we all uniquely incorporate them into our lives based upon our culture and traditions. Next time you’re out exploring, look at the flowers around you. It’s a great opportunity to observe the role flowers have in the lives of others around the world!