It's that time of year again. Saturday, in case you didn't know, is St. Valentine's Day. Although the origins of this tradition are uncertain, it has long been customary for people in the Anglo-Saxon world to give their lovers a small token of appreciation such as flowers or cards on this day. In recent years, St. Valentine's Day has also been establishing itself as a tradition in the Czech Republic.
Although St. Valentine's Day has been a tradition in places like Britain since the Middle Ages, it was practically non-existent in the Czech Republic less than a decade ago. Now, it is everywhere. From shops offering a wide selection of special Valentine's cards to restaurants advertising "romantic" dinners for two, it is hard not to be reminded that St. Valentine's Day is around the corner, even though this "tradition" is only a few years old here.
The main reason for this is presumably commercial, as businesses try to drum up sales during the quiet period between Christmas and Easter. Bohemia Flowers, one of Prague's leading florists, has undoubtedly benefited from the fact that Czechs have taken so readily to St. Valentine's Day. Nevertheless, Eva Lysakova, Bohemia Flowers' Creative Project Manager, explains how she believes Valentine's Day may have been introduced here for commercial reasons, but that Czechs were now beginning to get into the spirit of this tradition:
"We think that it was mostly due to companies who first began pushing Valentine's Day, because it's primarily a holiday for giving, which means you can use it to sell something. But now I realise that - even among my friends - people are saying, 'Well, you know, I don't really care about Valentine's Day, but I'm definitely going to do something little.' "
So if Czechs have been more than happy to adopt this foreign tradition of giving their lovers flowers, cards or small gifts on St Valentine's Day, what do they actually give each other? Is it the same as everywhere else or do their Valentines' gifts have a particularly Czech theme? Robert Carter, the founder and owner of Bohemia Flowers says that some presents are the same and some have a more local flavour:
Robert Carter: "Twelve red roses is definitely the most popular product that we deliver. We also get a lot of additional orders. People will go on our website and ask for a dozen roses but also want a bottle of Bohemia Sekt - that's very Czech - or they'll request a box of chocolates to be delivered with the flowers."
RP: "So, for Czechs, flowers are not enough?"
Eva Lysakova: (laughing): "Flowers are never enough!"
Robert Carter: "But they're a good start..."
In the English-speaking countries where Valentine's Day is well established, it is very traditional to add a small, poetic message to the flowers or card you send your lover. This message is usually instantly recognisable by its opening lines: "Roses are Red, Violets are Blue...", which are then usually followed by a humorous personalised epigram. I asked Eva Lysakova and Robert Carter if any similar "standard" Valentine's message was emerging in the Czech Republic:
Eva Lysakova: "I don't think so..."
Robert Carter: "I don't think so either. People are very individualistic about it. There's certainly no cliché; it's always something different."
Eva Lysakova: "Well if we looked into our orders and found the message part, I'm sure we'd find something really 'interesting', but we wouldn't do that..."
Robert Carter: (laughing) "It's a very secretive thing, I guess..."
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