Before you send flowers, mama, brush up on your local flower customs (and be careful with those white flowers!)
Giving flowers has been a long-held tradition for different occasions across cultures. Different types, colours, and floral arrangements can convey varying meanings, hence care and thought must be placed before sending them out lest you unintentionally offend the recipient.
Singapore’s multi-cultural environment—predominantly comprised of people of Malay, Indian, and Chinese descent—makes it extra tricky. However, you need only consider the ethnic roots of the recipient to figure out the dos and don’ts of sending flowers for their culture.
Read more: 6 DIY Flower Tutorials to Bloom Your Room
Chinese Flower Customs
In Chinese culture, flowers are highly regarded emblems for various ideals. For instance, the lotus flower has held symbolic significance in both religion and the arts for centuries. The Chinese have traditionally associated the lotus with purity, honour, and wellness.
For ethnic Chinese, flowers are generally given as gifts for unpleasant occasions, such as during illness or at funerals. Cut flowers, in particular, are generally considered sympathy gifts for mourning families, so avoid sending them as gifts for happy occasions. Yellow chrysanthemums and white flowers are also seen as funereal and usually symbolise death in Chinese culture.
On the other hand, red is an auspicious colour for Chinese, symbolising life and happiness. Prized flowers in Chinese culture include peonies signifying wealth and prosperity, and chrysanthemums for nobility and elegance. Orchids are also seen as lucky flowers used to symbolise integrity and friendship. They often appear in Chinese artworks alongside the lotus for their grace and sophistication.
Read more: 7 Flowers to Avoid If You’re Allergy-Prone
Indian Flower Traditions
Flowers are indispensable in various Indian customs and traditions — from weddings to festivals. The Indian flower garland is particularly ubiquitous on many occasions. Flower garlands can symbolise spirituality, marriage, and honour.
In general, Indians prefer colourful and fragrant flowers as they capture festive moments and vibrant events. On the other hand, steer clear of frangipani flowers since those are used in funeral wreaths.
Read more: Wedding Etiquette in Singapore
Malay Culture on Flowers
Weddings alone utilise so many flower-related customs in the Malay culture. Among them is the flower bath ritual to ward off negative energies and bad luck. There has been talk among the communities in recent times that such practices originate from Hindu ancestral origins unrelated to the Malay culture in Singapore or Malaysia. The trend and culture has, however, seen a decline in modern Malay Muslim marriage celebrations here.
Nonetheless, flowers are central to modern marriages whether they’re used for a backdrop in the wedding dais or simply a classy table arrangement on a long or round table for guests. From the likes of white roses, lilies and daisies, these blooms can hardly be separated during joyous wedding occasions, regardless of the race and ethnicity of the bride and groom.
Numbers also figure a great deal into local floral superstitions. Some Asian cultures frown upon odd-numbered flowers, for instance. The Chinese associates the number 4 with death, for example, while the number 8 is considered quite lucky. Finally, a single flower, especially a single stem of rose, normally carries a message of love and romance.
To play on the safe side, mixed-coloured bouquets can disperse any superstition or negative energy. Choose a variety of brightly-coloured blooms for subtle meanings and send a general gesture for good will.