On February 14, the florist trade will be engaged in sending millions of
red roses around the country and abroad to complement the red wrappings
of all Valentine-themed chocolate boxes and other gifts. And in the
midst of all the excitement and romance predicted for such an occasion,
very few will remember the flower or the saint who started this charming
tradition: the violet and the martyred youth, Valentine.
Alas! The time has come to put the record straight; St. Valentine's
flower is not the rose, but the violet. Persecuted by a cruel Roman
emperor, and in prison, this Christian priest continued his good works
by encouraging other believers with messages of friendship and love.
According to the legend, Valentine crushed the violet blossoms growing
outside his cell to make precious ink with which to write, on the
leaves, to his friends while an obliging dove delivered the notes. It is
also said that Valentine maintained a remarkable epistolary relationship
with his jailer's blind daughter to whom he wrote daily and cured of her
St. Valentine was executed on 14 February 269 A.D. His demise coincided
with the pagan festivals of Lupercalia held in honor of the goddess
Juno, who favored women and marriage. From there on, this late winter
festival was associated with romantic love, fertility rites and the
coming of spring. Violets, linked to faithfulness or the "I return
your love" sentiment, remained a symbol as well as a popular
offering between lovers.
In due time, and most specifically by the 18th century, the traditional
and popular love missives were illustrated and marketed as postcards,
becoming a hit all over Europe, particularly in Germany. St. Valentine's
Day and his violets were also widely popular in the America of the
1800s; this tradition was documented in 1900 when the California
poetess, Phoebe Fulkerson Harris (1830-1917) penned her famous
"Lines accompanying a bunch of violets sent on St. Valentine's
Day." It should also be noted that well into the 30s, New
Englanders still preferred their Valentine's box of candies topped with
a bouquet of violets
For the last decade, the only wholesale violet farm left in the United
States (California) and managed by the Garibaldi family, has been
reporting record sales of violets on St. Valentine's Day week. It
appears that at this time, florist designers in the San Francisco Bay
Area and beyond are busy creating violet-filled wreaths in the shape of
hearts for their very sophisticated customers. Could this be a new trend
in sync with the true traditions around St. Valentine's Day?
Next Valentine's Day, let us remember the good saint, and honor our loved ones and special friends with bunches of sweet violets.