Miles Kington: The patron saint of florists and parfumiers

One day they realised that, after Christmas, there was no reason to spend money on roses and chocolates until Mother's Day in March
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It's less than a week to go to St Valentine's Day, so I thought that we'd have a briefing session today before we all get deluged in pink...

Why is pink the colour of St Valentine's Day?

Because it is symbolic of going into the red. Because it is the colour of pink champagne, and lipstick, and that sparkly stuff on top of truffles, and pink elephants, and undercooked lamb, and blushing...

Blushing? Whose blushing?

The blushing of the retail industry.

Why did the retail industry blush?

For very shame. One day they suddenly realised that, after Christmas, there was no reason for people to spend money on roses, chocolates, champagne and diamonds until they got to Mother's Day in March. How could they have been so stupid as not to provide a retail window in February! So all the florists and chocolatiers and parfumiers and restaurateurs and patissiers got together and created St Valentine's Day, the day on which lovers send each other pink presents. And cards. With a pink heart on.

I notice that all the people who make a fortune out of St Valentine's Day have French names. Is there a reason for that?

You mean, like Chanel? Cartier? Roger et Gallet...?

No - I mean like chocolatier, parfumier and so on.

Oh, that. That's quite normal. The French have always cornered the vocabulary market when it comes to love, marriage, babies and so on. Think of all those words like fiancé, crèche, trousseau, ménage a trois, billet-doux, and so on. All to do with love, and all French. Very ooh la la.

Why do people give each other roses? It's not the right time of year for roses, is it? Why not daffodils or hyacinths?

Don't be silly. Daffodils are cheap and plentiful at this time of year, so there wouldn't be much of a profit margin in it. Far better to choose an expensive flower as symbol of the occasion.

That is why large parts of Africa and the Near East are given over to rose-growing on a huge scale, and as far as the eye can see there are nothing but pink, orange and red roses waving in the wind. The aroma of massed roses is so strong that the pickers cannot work for more than an hour in the rose fields without danger of asphyxiation.

Is that true?

No. But that is all part of the great tradition of St Valentine's Day - making hot-headed declarations which turn out not to be true in the cold light of day.

I read somewhere that the Friday after Shrove Tuesday used to be called Kissing Friday, and it was the day on which all schoolboys were allowed to kiss girls with impunity.

That is true.

Why has it not survived?

Because it has no retail possibilities.


You don't have to buy anything to kiss someone against their wishes. The industry doesn't want the calendar cluttered up with non-profit-making festivals. That is why, for instance, we are not encouraged to celebrate the Ides of March. Or St David's Day.

Do not the Welsh celebrate St David's Day?

Not in the way the Irish celebrate St Patrick's Day. The Welsh are not blessed with a talent for marketing. Do we see Welsh Theme Pubs round the world? I do not think we do.

Did you know that the Welsh once had their own kind of bagpipe, which they called a "pibgorn", but allowed it to die out? They are the only Celtic race which failed to preserve their native bagpipe. And they say the Welsh are musical!

Ah, but perhaps the fact that they let their bagpipe become extinct proves how musical they are, doesn't it?

You may be right.

Why is Shrove Tuesday not extinct like the Welsh bagpipe?

Thank God you reminded me. It's nearly time for my annual article on "How to Make Pancakes Perfectly Every Time!"

Coming Soon: Mother's Day and how to avoid it