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Feb. 14, 2005

Symbols of love from near and far

by June Hu, Page Editor
Everywhere you look around, love is in the air. But whether or not there really is a blindfolded cherub just beyond that cloud aiming an arrow at your heart, you will see renderings of him, as well as other popular representations of love, printed onto boxes of chocolates, hanging from necklaces in the display window, or drawn on signs next to fresh roses in this season of romance. Although Cupid, hearts and roses are undeniably the most commonly used images in an American Valentine's, they are far from being the only love icons. For even though love is universal, different cultures, traditions and lore have fashioned, over long, centuries, enough symbols of love to rival stars for brilliance and to match flowers for variety.

The power of petals

Roses, the queen of flowers, are usually appointed as diplomats of adoration on Valentine's Day. According to TheRomantic.com, 110 million roses, most of which are red for passion, will be sold and delivered between Feb. 13 and Feb. 15.
The Woodmoor Bakery across the street from Blair has a delicious selection of Valentine's Day treats. Diana Frey
The Woodmoor Bakery across the street from Blair has a delicious selection of Valentine's Day treats.

While many florists, such as the Hoover Fisher Flower shop across the street from Blair and CVS, which sold roses at $2.50 per stem, will receive a boost in sales, Blair's student groups are also selling flowers to raise money. Last week, the Vietnamese club sold roses and carnations in pink and red for $2 each, and the Chinese club sold hand-made silk roses in a variety of colors for $3 each. Students purchased these floral tokens of affection eagerly. Junior Yiran Xia, for example, spent $30 buying flowers in school for at least 10 people. "I wanted a way to tell all my friends how much I love all of them, so I decided flowers would be the best way to do that," she explains.

Many people, like Xia, believe that flowers speak the perfumed language of love. However, articulating with flowers is a precise art because each flower and flower color holds a different message. For example, according to Clareflorist, while red roses generally represent love and passion, a long-stemmed rose means "I will remember you always,” and a short-stemmed rose can mean girlhood. Black roses say "farewell.” Deep pink say "thank you," and light pink roses mean admiration. White roses can mean both silence and pure love, while yellow roses mean joy, platonic love and jealousy.

Other flowers that are popular this season include carnations, which generally mean fascination and devoted love. A white carnation means "you're adorable.” A pink carnation says "I'll never forget you.” However, carnations can send some harsh messages: a yellow carnation says "you have disappointed me,” according to ClareFlorist, and a purple carnation means fickleness, while a striped carnation can mean both refusal and longing.

In Hindu culture, the jasmine flower represents love according to freshman Priyanka Gokhale. A sunflower, because it stalks the sun, symbolizes a sunny disposition, devotion and intense infatuation. Violets symbolize chastity, and forget-me-nots represent undying love. According to About.com, the name of the forget-me-not originated from a legend of a young lover, who fell into a river while gathering these small blue flowers for his sweetheart. Before he drowned, he appealed to his love, "Forget me not."

The drastic differences hidden in the petals of flowers make the delicate art of flower-giving a very dangerous and precise a science, especially for guys. Like nuclear engineering, sometimes if you send the wrong flower, the gesture of consideration can blow up in your face. "I had no idea every flower had a different meaning, and giving someone the wrong one kinda sounds like something I would do. I think that being ignorant about the different ways flowers can be interpreted is kinda scary,” says junior Will Gerhard. "If you gave a girl the wrong type of flower and she got irritated, it would be pretty annoying.”

”Sweet, above thought I love thee”

Candy, like flowers, can convey affection. Freshman Boris Vassilev will be steering clear of flowers this Valentine's Day. Instead, he plans to give his girlfriend Godiva chocolates because although candy does not "score as many 'awww!' points, [it] scores a lot of safety and yummy points,” Vassilev says.

The message in a box of candy is simple and direct: "I'm sweet on you.” In 1866, according to TheRomantic.com, candy company NECCO made candy-messaging even simpler with the invention of Conversation Hearts, dissolvable powder candies that have phrases such as "I Love You” and "Be Mine” printed on them. NECCO estimates that about eight billion of these tiny, tart sweets are sold between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 each year. TheRomantic.com also predicts that this year, more than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine's Day.

The popularity of candy as a valentine is due many people's association of the emotions of love to the gastronomic sensation of sweetness, which originated centuries ago. In Elizabethan England, when Shakespeare wrote "Sweet, above thought I love thee," men and women used to brush their teeth with sugar to preserve a sweet, kissable breath, which is directly linked to the sad oral health conditions of that era.

A more dentist- and nutritionist-approved item is the tomato, which has was known as "love's apple” in European history because of a mistranslation according to FoodReferences.com. When tomatoes came to Italy from Spain, the Italians, who called the Spanish "Moors,” told French emissaries that these fruits were called "apples of the moors,” but a misunderstanding or a deliberate error in translation led the French to call tomatoes pommes d'amour, or "apples of love,” and to believe that the red tomato was ripe with love-inducing juice. To this day, parts of Germany still use "liebesapfel,” meaning "love's apple,” as the common name of tomatoes.

According to Xinqun Hu, historical consultant to China's Nanjing Museum, the ultimate Chinese gift is the lychee (or litchi), a sweet fruit. During the Tang Dynasty, an emperor favored a wife from the south of China who had a real sweet tooth for lychee. But the lychee only grows in the warm conditions of the south, and since the capital was in the north, lychees did not often reach the Imperial City. To please his wife, the emperor dispatched the hundreds of his best riders and fastest horses from his cavalry to the south of China to bring back lychee for his wife's pleasure.

Winged love

The bird stars of Valentine's Day are love birds and doves. The small, blue love birds "found love” on Valentine's Day, according to MyDearValentine.com. Once they find their mates, these birds grow old together, and once one bird dies, its partner soon dies too because it "cannot live without its love.”

Doves are the emblematic birds of Aphrodites, the Greek goddess of love. Because of their association with the goddess and because they conveniently rhyme with "Love,” doves are often thought of as the messengers of love and are a favorite love symbol of poets. A dictionary definition of the adjective "lovey-dovey” is used to describe people who "express too much love and sentimentality.”

In Asian mythology, according to Hu, magpies represent good news and reunion. The Weaver Princess Zhinu and the Cowherder Niulang were happily married, but the Empress of the Heavens, who did not approve of the union of mortals and immortals, made them into stars and drew the Milky Way between the couple to separate them forever. However, the good-hearted magpies pitied the lovers, and every year, on the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, millions of magpies would soar into the sky and use their wings to make a bridge so that the couple could walk across the Milky Way for a precious reunion.

Tying the knot

Even though "tying the knot” is English slang for getting married, the knot is a symbol of love in many different cultures. The Chinese believed that the Old Man Beneath the Moon linked lives of fated lovers with knotted red strings. Girls from strict Muslim families could not voice their pledges of love to their sweethearts, so they sent secret messages to their lovers through knots woven into a carpet. Over centuries, the code system became an Arab tradition, according to MyDearValentine.com. Preliterate Andean peoples in the Americas also used a system of knotting colored cords to "spell" out messages called khipu. These decorative "love letters" are became the precursor to today's love knots and knot bracelets.

Some African cultures use different colors of beads instead of cords to code for hidden messages. The Zulu nation, located in modern-day South Africa, is famous for the elaborate bead necklaces that its people wear. Thirty centuries ago, Phoenicians brought glass beads to many African nations, but Zulu beadwork is singular because the bead colors are carefully selected and combined to create a work of art as well as a hidden communication worn by both men and women. Most of the time, the beads are worn to show relationships with potential lovers, and the message woven into the necklaces and bracelets are "incwadi," or love letters. The most basic and common motif in Zulu beading is the shape of the triangle, which according to The Bead Bugle, represents the father, the mother and the child. An inverted single triangle means that a woman is unmarried, while two triangles stacked together to make an hourglass or a diamond means that a woman is married. The colors of the bead are also meaningful. Green means cattle and grazing grounds, symbolizing domestic satisfaction; black could be sadness or marriage; pink could mean poverty, but it could also represent noble birth or an oath; blue means faithfulness in some cases, but violence in others. Each color is to be translated in context with other colors and to be further interpreted by the receiver of the beadwork.

Whereas in Zulu culture, geometric shapes denote a person's marital status, traditional Mennonites used to paint their doors green if the family had a daughter eligible for marriage. The Claddagh, a Celtic symbol consisting of a pair of hands holding a crowned heart, also indicate whether its wearer is betrothed or not.

Since the beginning, men and women have tried to find expression for this powerful emotion, this crazy little thing we call "love." But while time has marched on and people have evolved, love, and the symbols, tales, words and music that represent it, will always warm our hearts.



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  • Giant Hotdog Robot on February 14, 2005 at 7:27 PM
    jeez, talk about overanalyzing a fabricated holiday invented by the very capitalists that sell us cheap cards in a national money-making scheme.


    By the way, if i gave you some obscure shade of rose that supposedly means i hate you or something, im sorry. I was just trying to be nice. For me, Flowers = <3
  • bob on February 14, 2005 at 8:52 PM
    we could celebrate st. white's day too. then maybe, just maybe the rampant comsumer spending will make the economy not suck so much. oh yes.
  • - on February 14, 2005 at 9:28 PM
    Awesomeawesome acticle.
    Lotsa things make sense now ^^
  • Tiffany Mays (View Email) on March 30, 2006 at 3:32 PM
    I think that its good
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