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Symbolism of Flowers
Flowers have been always held in great admiration in Ukraine. You would hardly find a peasant house without flowers growing here and there around it. WU offers a short review of several flowers which in Ukraine have traditionally been invested with symbolic meanings.
Flowers please the eye and sooth the soul. When you are away from home, seeing flowers that used to grow in the garden of the house you grew up in, causes the flood of reminiscences.
Ukrainians of the old times sincerely believed that flowers were a special gift from God. If anything, the presence of flowers in the everyday life of Ukrainians has grown considerably — and seems to continue to grow. Hardly any occasion of some significance can do without flowers which are presented in bouquets of considerable sizes.
Flowers have made their way onto embroidered decorative towels, tablecloths, shirts and dresses, and into paintings and murals not only on the walls of public houses but on the walls of private homes as well. Flowers feature in songs, poetry and in art.
Stylized flowers that appear on dress usually carry some symbolic significance and meaning; they also protect against “evil spirits”, misfortune and diseases.
Only a few of the ancient rituals and beliefs connected with flowers actually survive but they bear testimony to their popularity in the times of old. Folk songs, bits of which are provided after every entry dealing with a particular flower, are a good evidence of how deeply flowers are embedded in the Ukrainian soul.
Mallow symbolizes love for one’s native land, for one’s parents and for one’s home. This plant reminds one of one’s spiritual and national roots, and of one’s ancestors.
The mallow features prominently in folk culture; it is hard to imagine a traditional Ukrainian home without mallows in one form or another — both as living plants or plucked flowers, and as stylized representations in decorative embroideries or folk paintings.
The times when practically every Ukrainian peasant hut had mallows in the front yard are not too distant in the past. When you were leaving your home for a long journey, the mallows in your yard, as you were saying goodbye to them, reminded you that “it is the sweet memory of the land where you were born that you will always carry in your heart.”
The mallows have fallen asleep in the garden,
The moon has climbed up high into the sky.
But the mother can’t sleep —
She is still waiting for her son to come back...
Periwinkle is a symbol of eternity and of being, of life force; it is a harbinger of spring. It is a reminder of the “dear departed.” However, if periwinkles growing at the grave are there to conjure up the image of the dead, periwinkles in wedding wreaths signify the eternal love of those who make their marriage pledges.
The evergreen glossy tough leaves of the periwinkle can withstand both freezing temperatures and heat, so that’s why this plant is a symbol of eternity.
Periwinkles used to be put close to all those things that it was desirable to have lasting as long as possible, for example, newborns and candles. Periwinkles at the side of the newborn baby would thus help ensure the baby’s long life, and periwinkles arranged around candles lit at the wedding would help keep the love of the newlyweds “evergreen.”
Halya carried water from the well to the house,
Ivanko, like a blooming periwinkle, followed her…
…Periwinkle, periwinkle, help bring
Ivanko back — I’ll take a good care of him,
Like I’ve been taking care of you…
Sunflower in Ukrainian folklore and tradition is the symbol of the solar energy, of the vigor of life and of well-being. In Ukrainian heraldry, the sunflower symbolizes fertility, unity, solar power and fecundity.
The sunflower keeps turning its head as it follows the progress of the sun across the sky, and when the sun hides behind the horizon, the sunflower’s head droops sadly, and ponders the profound issues of life. The sunflower reminds us that the sun should be respected as the life- and light-giver, and that the humans should respect their native land in a similar manner.
It was believed that sunflowers seeds should be planted before sunrise or after sunset — if you do that then the yield will be much better and the birds will not pick out too many of its seeds.
The sunflower has lowered its head,
The girls’ song flies through the gathering darkness.
I’m listening to that song that comes from afar,
The swift passing of my youth saddens me...
There is hardly a yard in the Ukrainian countryside, be it a peasant house or a summer cottage, without brightly colored marigolds growing there. Most of the Ukrainians, if asked which flower they would call “a symbol” of Ukraine, would opt for the marigold.
Botanists say that this flower, of which there are several varieties (the one which is most popular in Ukraine is known as “French marigold”), began to be grown in Ukraine as late as in the nineteenth century, and quickly became ubiquitous.
As you travel across the length and breadth of Ukraine you are sure to see marigolds of several shades of yellow, red and brown on longer or shorter stems providing their cheerful touch to the private and public gardens and flower beds.
Marigolds grew in my mother’s garden,
Shining bright in the morning.
She taught me to sing vernal songs
About my woes.
As I look at the marigolds,
I see the image of my old mother.
I see your hands, mother,
I remember your tenderness…
Cornflower is a symbol of a subtle and beautiful soul, righteousness and virtue, or purity, modesty and friendliness.
The cornflower was believed to be a potent protection against the evil spirits and against all sorts of misfortunes which are caused by the Evil One.
No wonder these flowers were grown in the front- and backyards of many peasant houses, and if they were blessed by a priest during certain religious feasts, they preserved their magic powers until next year.
A nosegay of cornflowers was used for sprinkling the newlyweds with holy water as a form of blessing; infusions made from cornflowers could be used for sprinkling the places where important events were to take place; girls used such infusions for washing their faces with — it was believed to help preserve the beauty and protect against evil spells.
Give, us, God, please do,
As many cornflowers as you can...
Cornflowers in the field, cornflowers in the field,
And you, my dearest, have cornflowers in your eyes...
Poppy symbolizes infinity of the universe and at the same time it suggests sleep and oblivion. The poppy capsule is a symbol of quietude. Poppies feature prominently at two of the religious festivals — Makoviy and Spas; poppy seeds are an indispensable ingredient of kutya, a dish made of wheat, poppy seeds and honey, and consumed at Christmas.
The poppy thanks to its blooms that are so tender and wilt in no time, is also a symbol of youth and beauty that pass so fast. A wreath made of poppy flowers is likened to girls’ virginity — the petals are damaged and are lost so easily.
Poppies were believed to have a magic power and be helpful against all sorts of evil forces and evil influences; they were believed to be a good charm against witches.
The girl is collecting poppies,
She’s tormented by a wicked love,
She is crying over red poppies,
She’s crying over the unrequited love...