The Deeper Meaning of Thanksgiving Flowers

Written by Kelsey W.

Flowers are a beautiful part of our lives, from the celebration of a child’s birth to the celebration of life after a loved one’s passing. Flowers routinely appear on our tables each year for holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day, but many of the flowers we casually associate with a holiday have a deeper meaning.

Humans have attached meanings to flowers for centuries and have even created myths to describe their beginnings. Consider the Greek myth of Hyacinthus and Apollo, which tells how Apollo mourned the death of his friend, Hyacinthus. The story says that a beautiful flower grew from the ground where the young man died and that Apollo named the flower the hyacinth.

In Mexico, carnations are a familiar sight during the “Day of the Dead,” and in Korea, carnations are used to predict the future. In the Christian faith, early Catholics associated the lily with Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was in the 1800s when flowers started taking on meanings that included emotions, and authors actually wrote code books to help people decode what someone was saying with a gift of flowers.

With the arrival of the holiday season, let’s explore some traditional Thanksgiving flowers and the deeper meanings that go along with displaying, gifting, and growing them.

Traditional Thanksgiving Flower Meanings

Ornamental Gourds

One of the most meaningful and popular displays for Thanksgiving isn’t actually a flower but the sturdy, fall-hued ornamental gourd, which often takes center stage in the traditional Thanksgiving cornucopia display. Ornamental gourds are incredibly colorful and vibrant and complement just about any fall-themed decorating scheme.

Did you know you can grow ornamental gourds in Southern California? The gourds that we use to decorate during Thanksgiving aren’t actually miniature pumpkins but berries that grow from a vining plant. The colorful gourds are a beautiful accent for fireplace mantles, Thanksgiving centerpieces, and cornucopias. Ornamental gourds are also easy to grow and offer exceptionally beautiful yields.

A cornucopia filled with colorful gourds is a wonderful way to share the sentiments of Thanksgiving. A cornucopia is also known as a horn of plenty, and it’s a horn-shaped container into which fall-themed vegetables, fruits, and gourds are stuffed. When displayed during Thanksgiving, a cornucopia is meant to symbolize abundance and bounty, which is one of the most meaningful parts of the Thanksgiving Day celebration.

Claret Sunflowers

Another frequently displayed flower on Thanksgiving tables is the beautiful sunflower, which you’ll normally find in happy yellow hues, but which is also found in claret (red). The claret sunflower is a welcome sight in any Thanksgiving bouquet because of its display of orange, red, and yellow petals, but did you know that it’s also a variety of sunflower that produces edible seeds?

Since Thanksgiving is the holiday of bounty and abundance, it puts some extra meaning into your Thanksgiving flowers when they’re not just beautiful but edible, too. You can grow your own claret sunflowers in Southern California. Find a spot in your yard with full sun, and enjoy this swiftly growing annual that will reach a height of up to six feet under the bright SoCal sun.

The sunflower also has some interesting Greek mythology attached to its meaning as it was featured in the story of Apollo and a water nymph who fell in love with the Greek god. She would turn her head to follow him in the sky each day and eventually turned into a sunflower. If you’ve ever seen a field of sunflowers, you’ll know that they turn their bright sunny faces toward the sun and follow it.

Bonnie Chrysanthemums

If you’re filling a cornucopia for your Thanksgiving feast and need some flowers for filler, you might want to try a batch of autumn-colored chrysanthemums, which are one of the most popular fall flowers. Chrysanthemums also pair beautifully in a bouquet with sunflowers. Just about any off-the-shelf vase of flowers sold near Thanksgiving will have a few chrysanthemums in it, so they’re a widely accepted part of the holiday.

If you’d like to grow your own chrysanthemums for the autumn holidays, consider the Bonnie chrysanthemum, which is a happy flower with red petals and a yellow eye. Think of the enjoyment you’ll receive when you harvest your ornamental gourds for your cornucopia and fill it with the Bonnie chrysanthemums from your garden.

Other colors of chrysanthemums that make excellent Thanksgiving gifts and go well in table displays include yellow, red, and orange, as well as any of the autumn-colored hybrid mums that feature two-toned petals. The burnt copper chrysanthemum, which is an orange flower with hints of bronze, offers big, luscious blooms, which look lovely in a bountiful Thanksgiving display.

Finding Flowers with Personal Meaning During Thanksgiving

If you’re looking for a plant gift for your immediate or extended family during Thanksgiving, there are several meaningful options, like the hydrangea, which looks magnificent in a bouquet as well as in your Southern California garden. Hydrangeas are a featured flower in a Japanese legend that tells of an emperor who gave the flowers to the family of a girl as a symbol of gratitude.

Today, the flowers are a wonderful way to celebrate Thanksgiving, particularly when you want to show gratitude for the love of family and for the gathering. The color of the hydrangea doesn’t immediately inspire thoughts of the autumn, but the meaning of the flower is certainly a meaningful gesture.

Another meaningful flower you may wish to consider on Thanksgiving is the hyacinth, specifically the purple hyacinth, which is used to celebrate forgiveness. If you’ve recently mended a rift within your family and you’re coming together for the first time in a long while at Thanksgiving, the hyacinth is a beautiful and meaningful gift to your family.

If you’re interested in giving your family or friends something that will last for a while for Thanksgiving, consider the prayer plant, which is an excellent indoor plant with leaves that curl up at night, just like a pair of praying hands. If you and your family say a prayer before you eat your Thanksgiving dinner, you may want to include this special plant in a gift or as part of your Thanksgiving display.

If you’re spending time with friends rather than immediate family, don’t worry, there are Thanksgiving flowers for you, too. One of the most popular floral gifts that represents friendship is the yellow rose, which you may want to insert into a bouquet with other Thanksgiving flowers like sunflowers and chrysanthemums.

Not only is the beautiful color of yellow a perfect addition to any fall-themed bouquet, but the color pairs wonderfully with other popular Thanksgiving colors like brown, orange, and red. Show your friends you appreciate their gesture by including yellow roses in your Thanksgiving vase or bouquet when you visit for dinner.

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