Like any other commercial holiday, Valentine’s Day boils down to the purchasing and exchanging of gifts. It’s a holiday set to remind us to appreciate the special someone in our lives with a dainty card, a teddy bear (or even better, a Squishmallow) and — obviously — a bouquet of flowers.
Not far from my childhood home is a florist shop that spans the entire corner of the block. The flowers fill the street, and their scent overflows onto the busy intersection. There is a pretty array of peonies visible from the N/W train platform connecting Astoria to Manhattan. I’ve walked past the usually empty shop every day and wondered, how are they still in business? There are only so many special occasions in the year.
Apart from that florist’s shop, I rarely saw bouquets. The first, and last, time that I bought flowers was in kindergarten. My school was selling flowers for Mother’s Day, and my mom had graciously given me $5 to pick out one for her. The selection consisted of potted leafy greens, money plants and brightly colored tulips. However, my eyes were set on a single rose: It wasn’t your cliché deep red or rosy pink, but a unique magenta whose petals curled ever so slightly.
My Bangladeshi mom is a rather inconspicuous woman who doesn’t express emotion well. Yet, it was clear that she was not fond of my choice. With an exasperated sigh, she asked, “What is this?” To her, she was looking at $5 down the drain. I learned that day that roses die too quickly. And once they are dead, that’s it; you can’t harvest anything from a rose. In the future, don’t buy Mom roses.
Fast forward a couple of years, a boy asked me if I wanted roses for Valentine’s Day. I laughed and said, “No, that’s dumb. What am I going to do with a flower?” It was a rhetorical question, but I started to answer it myself. Because my mom was right, flowers are pretty useless. Even my friends argue that they’d rather have money than flowers. I would have appreciated any gift but since he had asked, I suggested more purposeful ones. Like a camera to record memories together, a heartfelt letter or song or simply a day to enjoy each other’s company. In comparison, a bouquet is an expensive, cliché gift that gets thrown out too soon. So what is the big deal with flowers?
But I think I finally understand why the florist shop is still open. I imagine how you could be walking past the florist and stop for a second. The scent of lavender bunches reminds you of your significant other’s hair. Or you see your own lover’s beauty in the intricacy of a cream hyacinth. You might have even planned picking up flowers to brighten their day. You picture the bright color blooming in their room. Just as you see them amidst the beauty of flowers, you hope that this bouquet captures that same love and affection. This sentiment in itself is romantic, but flowers are more than that.
Aside from being a simple formality on occasions like Valentine’s Day, gifting flowers shows intrinsic care for anyone in your life. My mom — who doesn’t believe in receiving flowers — bought a bouquet from the florist each year to give to my teachers. She explained that it was custom to do so, to say thank you. In other moments, flowers expressed pride as my dad held a bunch after my dance performances. I am a terrible dancer who you could never find on stage, but still I drove home with a bouquet of baby’s breath and pink lilies. And when my uncles, aunts and cousins aggressively wave bouquets at the airport, it’s to signal: “Over here! We missed you!” My point is that flowers say so much more, especially as a pleasant surprise. Like many others, I exclusively associated flowers with special occasions, which is a shame because it’s a raw, beautiful action to gift flowers just because.
Whether or not a waste of money and they’ll die soon anyway, I’ll look at a bouquet and smile. My heart will swell at the thought that someone walked into the florist shop whilst thinking of me and not some Hallmark holiday.
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