Have you ever wondered why Russians give flowers so frequently? And why all bouquets in Russian flower-shops consist of an odd number of flowers?
When my American friend came to Moscow one day, she was extremely surprised at the sight of flower-shops at every turn. And when she asked me why there are so many flower-shops in Moscow (as well as in Saint Petersburg, in Tula, etc.), I wondered too. Well, for me these shops are part of my city, so I told my friend that Russians just like giving flowers — hence the shops. Only after my friend's departure I suddenly understood how strong the tradition of giving flowers is in Russian culture.
We give flowers on all occasions: it does not matter whether you go to a wedding or visit your friends, whether it is someone's birthday or New Year — a bouquet of flowers will always be an ideal gift. Of course, it does not mean we give ONLY bouquets on all the celebrations but a bunch of flowers will be brought as an additional present in 90% of cases. Usually Russians give bouquets to women but it is allowed to present flowers to men too, mostly for their birthdays.
Another flower-giving-tradition can be observed on September 1, when the school year begins and thousands of pupils bring bunches of flowers to their teachers. Students bring flowers too, though the tradition is not so vivid in universities. Here, students mostly give flowers to their professors after finals as a token of thanks for the knowledge received.
If you are invited to stay over in a Russian home it would be very nice to give flowers to the hostess. Usually the ready-made bouquets can easily be bought in innumerable flower-shops but if you want to create a bouquet by yourself using retail flowers, be careful with the number of them. It must be odd!
Almost every Russian believes that presenting an even number of flowers might inflict woes and even death upon the person to whom the present was given. This superstition follows us from the early days and until the great age. One might be a total realist, can sneer at those who avoid black cats and argue with foam at the mouth that all the supernatural phenomena can be explained by science — but still, choosing a bouquet, this person will most probably buy an odd number of flowers, and upon receipt of an «unhappy» number in the bunch, the same person will more than likely put one flower to another vase, so as the number in both vases were odd.
The superstition that an even number of flowers inflicts woes goes back centuries. According to one of the theories, pagan Slavics believed that even numbers represented the completion of the life cycle, that is, death. Hence the existing up to now proverb “Беда не приходит одна” (“Trouble does not come alone”). When somebody died, their relatives put an even number of flowers onto his/her grave. Odd numbers, on the contrary, symbolized life and were considered to be talismans against evil spirits.
The tradition of putting a wreath with 4, 6 or 8 flowers onto the grave is still alive. Russians buy funeral wreaths not only for funerals, but also for some Orthodox holidays, when it is customary to visit the grave of deceased relatives. Usually children take part in the ceremony. Of course, they see the wreaths, they see the number of flowers, they might be told about its meaning. I personally remember being surprised to see that the number of flowers in the wreath was even. I asked my grandma about it and she explained that this «bouquet» is only for dead.
Now I cannot say I am superstitious and I don't want to be. But somehow I feel a bit nervous if my bouquet consists of an even number of flowers. Of course, if I receive such a bunch, I don't divide flowers and put them into two vases as some people do (frankly speaking I completely forget about their number in some minutes), but at first I always find myself thinking about the superstition. It always surprises me how strong it is.
Flowers follow us Russians throughout our lives. We give them to new mothers. We give them for birthdays, for weddings, for Women's day and even for Christmas. We give them to women and to men, to hosts and to friends, to teachers and to doctors.
And we give them to dead.
Just one additional flower makes such a great difference!
Give flowers. Receive flowers. And follow the Russian flower-giving-rules :)