History of Giving Flowers: From Ancient Times to Modern Day

Giving flowers as a gift is a timeless tradition that has been practiced for centuries. Flowers have been used to express emotions, communicate messages, and convey sentiments that words cannot. The history of giving flowers is fascinating and dates back to ancient times.

In ancient Greece, flowers were associated with gods and were used as offerings in temples. Over time, the tradition of giving flowers evolved into a way of expressing sentiments to loved ones. Different flowers were used to convey different messages, and the language of flowers, also known as floriography, became popular in Victorian England. The practice of floriography allowed people to communicate through flowers, sending secret messages to loved ones that only they could understand.

Today, giving flowers is a common practice that is deeply ingrained in our culture. Whether it’s a bouquet of roses for Valentine’s Day or a simple arrangement to brighten someone’s day, flowers continue to be a popular gift choice. Flowers are not only beautiful, but they also have the power to communicate emotions and bring people closer together. Understanding the history and significance of giving flowers can help us appreciate this tradition even more.

Open hands with a selection of colorful flowers.
The secret language of flowers.

Ancient origins of floral gifts

Flowers have been used as gifts for thousands of years across many cultures. From ancient Egyptians to Greeks, flowers held a special place in their societies. In this section, we will explore the ancient origins of floral gifts.

Egyptian lotus and Nile River

Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to use flowers in their religious ceremonies as offerings to the gods and the dead. They believed that flowers had spiritual and medicinal properties. The lotus flower was particularly important to them, as it symbolized rebirth and regeneration. Egyptians used lotus flowers in many different ways, such as decorating their homes, making perfume, and even eating them.

The Nile River was also an essential part of Egyptian culture, and they believed that it had magical powers. They used flowers to honor the Nile River and its powers of fertility. During the extended 11-day “Beautiful Festival of Opet,” Egyptians used flowers in various rituals and festivals.

Egyptian god of fragrance, Nefertum, shown with lotus flowers.
Egyptian god of fragrance, Nefertum, shown with lotus flowers.

We cannot mention Egypt without mentioning the god of fragrance. According to Britannica Kids, “In ancient Egyptian religion and mythology, Nefertem (also spelled Nefertum) was the god of each morning’s creation of day, associated with the lotus flower. Nefertem was also the god of perfumes and aromatics, as the chemistry of fragrant oils was an important and highly sophisticated Egyptian science.”

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Greek mythology and floral offerings

The ancient Greeks also used flowers in their daily lives and religious ceremonies. Greek mythology talks about plants and flowers in many tales, such as the tale of Persephone, the goddess of spring. According to the myth, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, was so distraught that she refused to let anything grow on earth. Zeus, the king of the gods, intervened and made a deal with Hades so that Persephone could return to her mother. As a result, Demeter allowed the earth to bloom again, and flowers became a symbol of spring and rebirth.

Greek statue in garden, surrounded by flowers.
Flower myths of Greek mythology.

Greeks offered flowers to their gods and goddesses as a sign of respect and worship. They believed that flowers had the power to communicate their emotions and feelings. They also used flowers in their art and literature, such as the story of Hyakinthos, a young man who was transformed into a flower by the god Apollo.

Roman floral traditions

Romans also had a deep appreciation for flowers and used them in many different ways. They used flowers in their religious ceremonies, as well as to decorate their homes and public spaces. Romans believed that flowers had the power to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

One of the most significant Roman traditions was the use of floral crowns. Romans wore floral crowns during festivals and celebrations, such as weddings and religious ceremonies. They also used flowers to decorate their clothing and hair.

Ancient Roman woman wearing a traditional flower crown during a ceremony/festival.
Ancient Roman woman wearing a traditional flower crown during a ceremony/festival.

In conclusion, flowers have been an essential part of human culture for thousands of years. From ancient Egyptians to Greeks and Romans, flowers have held a special place in our societies. They have been used as gifts, decorations, and symbols of love and respect.

Spotlight: the tradition of the Hawaiian flower lei

The tradition of the Hawaiian flower lei is deeply rooted in the culture and spirit of Hawaii. The flower lei is a symbol of affection, respect, and aloha (love) that is often given as a welcoming gesture or to mark special occasions. The act of presenting a lei is a heartfelt expression of warmth and hospitality.

Hawaiian man and woman perform traditional Hawaiian dances.
Hawaiian man and woman dressed in traditional Hawaiian costume and flower leis, performing traditional Hawaiian dances. Credit: Castlelass.

Leis can be made from a variety of materials, including flowers, leaves, shells, and feathers. The most common type is the flower lei, which is crafted by stringing together fresh flowers such as plumeria, orchids, or tuberose. Each flower carries its own significance, and the selection and arrangement of the flowers can convey different meanings.

The giving and receiving of leis is accompanied by a traditional greeting, often with a kiss on the cheek and the exchange of the lei with a warm embrace. It is customary to wear the lei for the remainder of the day as a symbol of the shared connection and as a way to honor the giver.

The tradition of the Hawaiian flower lei reflects the spirit of aloha and serves as a beautiful symbol of love, celebration, and connection within the Hawaiian culture.

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Cultural significance and practices

Flowers have been an integral part of human culture for centuries, and the tradition of giving flowers has evolved into a symbol of love, respect, and appreciation. In this section, we will explore the cultural significance and practices of giving flowers in different parts of the world.

Eastern traditions

In Japan, the art of flower arrangement, or “kado,” is a highly respected and revered practice. It involves the precise placement of flowers and other natural elements to create a harmonious and balanced composition. Flowers are also given as gifts on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, and national holidays.

In China, the tradition of giving flowers dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). The “Four Gentlemen” – plum blossom, orchid, bamboo, and chrysanthemum – are considered the four most noble plants in Chinese culture and are often used in paintings, poetry, and as gifts to show respect and admiration.

Asian florist arranging flowers in vases.
Eastern Asian influences have contributed to modern day floral arranging art.

European floral customs

France has a long-standing tradition of giving flowers, especially on La Fête du Muguet (May Day), when people give lily of the valley as a symbol of good luck and happiness. In England, flowers have been used to convey messages since the Victorian era, when the language of flowers was developed. Each flower had a specific meaning, and people would send bouquets to express their feelings.

Modern global celebrations

In the United States, flowers are often given on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and weddings. National holidays such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day also involve the giving of flowers to honor those who have served in the military.

In modern times, the tradition of giving flowers has become a global phenomenon, with people from all cultures and backgrounds embracing the beauty and symbolism of flowers. Whether it’s a single stem or a lavish bouquet, flowers continue to be a timeless and cherished gift.

Grandmother receives sunflowers from her grandchildren.
Receiving flowers from grandchildren.

Symbolism and emotions conveyed by flowers

Flowers have been used to convey emotions and messages for centuries. Each flower has its own symbolic meaning, and the color of the flower can also convey a specific message. In this section, we will explore the different emotions and messages conveyed by flowers.

History of flowers at funerals

Throughout history, flowers have played a significant role in funerary customs and rituals across various cultures. The practice of using flowers at funerals dates back to ancient times, where they were believed to symbolize the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. In many cultures, flowers are used to honor and pay respects to the deceased, providing comfort to the bereaved and serving as a visual expression of sympathy and love.

In ancient Egypt, funeral wreaths and floral arrangements were commonly placed in tombs and burial sites as offerings to the deceased. The ancient Greeks and Romans also incorporated flowers into their funeral rites, using them to adorn the caskets and graves of the departed.

During the Victorian era, the use of flowers at funerals became more formalized and symbolic. Different types of flowers were assigned specific meanings, with lilies representing purity and innocence, roses symbolizing love and remembrance, and chrysanthemums signifying grief and mourning.

Urn surrounded by flowers at a funeral.
Urn surrounded by flowers at a funeral.

In modern times, flowers continue to be a prominent feature at funerals and memorial services, offering a way for mourners to express their condolences and honor the memory of the departed. Funeral flower cards accompany bouquets and arrangements, offering a chance to jot down a brief, but meaningful message to the family.

From traditional wreaths and sprays to personalized floral arrangements, the presence of flowers at funerals remains a deeply ingrained tradition that provides solace and beauty during times of loss.

Celebration and success

Flowers are also used to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, and achievements. Yellow roses are often given to congratulate someone on their success or to express joy and happiness.

In conclusion, flowers have been used for centuries to convey emotions and messages. Each flower has its own symbolic meaning and can be used to express a specific message. Whether you are expressing love, sympathy, or congratulations, there is a flower that can convey your message.

1950s beauty pageant contestants with winner with crown, robe, and flowers.
From beauty pageant queens to Olympic champions, flowers symbolize contratulations.

Modern flower gifting and commerce

As the practice of gifting flowers has evolved over time, it has become a significant part of various cultures worldwide. In modern times, the floral industry has grown to meet the needs of consumers, and flower gifting has become a multi-billion dollar industry. This section will explore the evolution of the floral industry and the rise of international flower delivery.

Floral industry evolution

The floral industry has come a long way since the ancient times when flowers were collected and shared for their beauty, scent, and practical uses. Today, the industry has evolved to offer a wide range of floral gifts, including floral arrangements, bouquets, and garlands.

A florist helps a customer select a gift of flowers.
Flower marketing is a worldwide business. This florist helps a customer select a gift of flowers.

Floral arrangements have become a popular gift for many occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. The floral industry has also adapted to the changing times by offering online ordering and delivery services. This has made it easier for consumers to order flowers and have them delivered to their loved ones, no matter where they are in the world.

International flower delivery

International flower delivery has become increasingly popular in recent years. With the rise of e-commerce and global trade, it is now possible to order flowers from anywhere in the world and have them delivered to your doorstep. This has made it easier for people to send floral gifts to their loved ones who live far away.

International flower delivery services offer a wide range of floral gifts, including bouquets, arrangements, and other floral traditions. They also offer a variety of delivery options, such as same-day delivery and next-day delivery, depending on the recipient’s location.

In conclusion, the practice of gifting flowers has evolved over time, and the floral industry has grown to meet the needs of consumers. With the rise of international flower delivery, it is now easier than ever to send floral gifts to your loved ones, no matter where they are in the world.

Early 1900s Victorian woman posing with flowers.
Learn where the history of giving flower came from, and the touching gestures and meaning behind it.
Renee Cavvy
Renee Cavvy

Renee brings over 30 years of gift giving experience to holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, workplace and faith events. Every life moment is cause for celebration or those times in life when we need the "the gift of support". Her mission: Let's all be better in appreciating one another, put an end to meaningless gifts that clutter our lives, and give from a place of love and kindness. This midwest mom (and grandma) offers novel and creative ideas to do gift giving better!