Every Christmas, as I plant up gift baskets for customers, I delight in the warm, bright colours of the cyclamen. They serve as such luminary offerings when I have become used to the dark, December days and muted tones of the evergreen fir, holly and ivy.
Cyclamen originated in the Holy land
Cyclamen originated in the Holy land and that is where this story really begins. Cyclamen persicum is the tender, joyful variety we usually have adorning our Christmas windowsills. In the Song of Soloman in the Bible the ‘rose of Sharon’ and ‘lily of the valley’ are mentioned. Those flowers are likely to have included cyclamen. Originally they were likely to have been smaller and pale but over the years they have been bred to increase in size and colour variety. They grew in dry areas, flowering in their spring. They would have had a delicious scent and they were said to flower in the gardens of Gethsemane. They must have brought welcome colour in a dry, barren place. Both Christmas and spring are times when we trumpet our joy and revel in the bright display by cyclamen. So, it may come as a surprise that these flowers were linked with the qualities of modesty and humility.
Cyclamen symbolize diffidence
Henry Phillips, in his book ‘Floral Emblems’ 1825, wrote that the cyclamen symbolised diffidence. “As modest diffidence adds attractions to beauty, so does this graceful flower engage our notice by its unassuming carriage, for the cyclamen, although it expands its petals in an upright direction, never rears its head to the sun.”
Take a close look at the petals and leaves
When you take a close look at the shape of those bright petals you realise that, just as he says, the petals are twisted and upswept. On inspection, they look rather like rabbit ears and that is perhaps why in the Far East they were sometimes called the ‘Bunny Ear Flower’. Rather an apt name, since a gentler and shier creature than a rabbit you surely cannot find? Moreover, the leaves are heart shaped. Cyclamen have been planted in Churchyards, Holy places and monasteries of differing denominations over many parts of the world. This is because they symbolize Holy love: A quiet, reverential love.
Cyclamen represent Holy love and Mother Mary
In fact, the story comes full circle and back to the Bible because those qualities and bowed flower heads on gracefully arched stems became associated with Mother Mary. It was said that as the flowers bent their heads and faced the ground with their petals turned back so they represented Mary when she humbly and reverently accepted the immaculate conception. It is easy to view the Christmas story with the benefit of hindsight and a perspective of resurrection. However, Mary had no idea what she was accepting; the joy, the courage required, the responsibility or the agony that would accompany it. She was so young, yet she became a true beacon of light and symbol of love among people. A cyclamen serves as a reminder of her divine purity, acceptance and humility. Whatever the name we give our faith, that light can live within us all.
The Flower Writer