Diamonds might be forever, but the red rose’s significance of love is much older than that of diamonds. And while a red rose bouquet now plays a critical role in Valentine’s Day, anniversaries and marriage proposals, it is also the ultimate “just because” gift to express romantic love.

It’s probably safe to say there’s no more prevalent or enduring symbol of love and beauty in Western art and literature than red roses. Renowned Scottish poet Robert Burns compared his love to one. Alice in Wonderland’s playing cards nearly lost their heads over them. Red roses crop up frequently in classical paintings, contemporary films and everywhere in between.

The red rose began its illustrious symbolic history in Greek and Roman iconography, where it was tied to Aphrodite, or Venus, the goddess of love. Later, in early Christian times it became associated with the virtue of Virgin Mary. By the time Shakespeare rolled around it had already become a poetic standard that he, and later Gertrude Stein both famously played with. But through all its ins and outs and long, storied history, the red rose still reigns as the ultimate symbol of passionate affection.

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