The History Behind Why We Give Roses On Valentine's Day Isn't Really That Romantic

by Caroline Burke

Have you ever taken the time to think about why some holiday traditions exist in the first place? Like, why do we use pine trees for Christmas, or wear costumes on Halloween? The connections between our customs and the holidays we celebrate can often seem hazy at best. I know I personally have wondered about stuff like this, especially one particularly strange tradition that seems concrete for no reason whatsoever: Why do we give roses on Valentine's Day?

As it turns out, there are both sentimental and economic (yes, really) aspects of the rose coming to serve as the official flower of love. Over the course of history, especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there grew a practice known as "floriography," which entailed the sending of floral bouquets to love interests — a tradition that has obviously carried through to today.

Roses became a popular choice because of their hardy nature, as well as their vibrant red color, the ultimate symbol of passion and love. Fun fact: According to Martha Stewart, other colors of roses stand for different themes: The pink rose symbolizes grace and appreciation, the yellow rose is for friendship, and a white rose represents innocence.

Roses bear an obvious visual symbolism for love, but it's not just about the romantic sentiment.

The idea of giving roses to someone you love seems like a pretty obvious thought process. A little bit less obvious is why we came up with, and continue to uphold, a tradition of sending flowers thousands of miles through cold and sleet and rain to tell someone we love them in the dead of winter. Well, the not-so-romantic truth about why we give one another flowers for Valentine's Day is that they — along with most other customs associated with the holidays — are a money-making machine.

According to ABC News, Americans dropped about two billion dollars on flowers in 2017, the most popular choice being roses, which leads to a pretty wild demand for the product: Approximately 250 million roses were produced just in time for the frigid winter holiday.

Let's get something straight, here: Your roses probably aren't coming from down the street.

Colombia and Ecuador's flower production accounts for half of the United States' flower sales, while the Netherlands are responsible for half of the worlds' flowers overall.

According to The Washington Post, the creation of "cold chains" — shipping systems that keep the flowers at a stable temperature while they move from the farm to the customer — and the ability of roses to withstand this process, contribute to the massive economic success of the industry. In this system, flowers are basically cut and shipped in a constantly chilled temperature, making it possible for them to travel thousands of miles and make it to a local grocery store, just in time for you to pluck them up on your way home from work.

Roses and carnations are the sturdiest flowers, which is why they've become such a popular choice on Valentine's Day.

Other flowers, like tulips, sunflowers, and irises, wilt far more easily, which is why they aren't as lucrative a product for an international flower-shipping industry. All of this adds up to nature's perfect little slice of gold: the rose.

Throughout the calendar year, a dozen roses can cost anywhere around $35, but after mid-January, the price hikes up to $45 or higher, due to such ridiculous demand for the popular flower.

In my personal opinion, when it comes to Valentine's Day gifts, it can be more fun to receive a different type of flower, or something besides flowers altogether. There's nothing that tops a truly heartfelt note, a sentiment that I'm happy to learn most Americans agree with: Couples exchanged somewhere around 190 million cards in 2017, a stat that gives me so many fuzzy feels.

So, this Valentine's Day, get the roses, or don't — it's up to you.

It really doesn't matter, as long as you're spending the holiday with people you love — or not acknowledging it in the first place, which is my standard Valentine's Day practice.

Galentine's Day, anyone?