Karbala's Blooming Tradition

Natural Flowers Add Color to a City of Reverence

KARBALA, December 24 — The city often associated with solemn religious ceremonies, is witnessing a colourful transformation. Amidst its historical and spiritual significance, gifting natural flowers is starting to become a trend for the people of Karbala brightening their city’s typically somber scenes and traditions.

In key neighborhoods like the Naqib district in the city center, flower shops like “Asaliya” are becoming focal points of this cultural change. The owner of Asaliya reports a remarkable sale of about 1,000 roses weekly. These flowers are not just for traditional occasions like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or New Year’s. They have also found their way into the celebration of the birthdays of the Imams during Sha’ban, the “Urs al-Qasim” celebration in Muharram, and other events such as official project inaugurations and as cemetery wreaths.

The preference for natural over artificial flowers is increasingly noticeable in Karbala. There’s a growing perception that using artificial flowers is in poor taste, particularly as competition among flower shops leads to more affordable prices, making them accessible to most residents. This shift represents a significant departure from Karbala’s somber image, bringing a burst of color to the city’s usually black-dominated scenes.

Alaa Hussein, a florist speaking for 964media, highlights the burgeoning trend: “The culture of gifting natural flowers has noticeably spread in Karbala in recent years, leading to a surge in flower shops.” He adds that they import flowers from countries like Holland, Ecuador, Kenya, and Ethiopia. These blooms make a swift journey of only two to three days from their origin to Iraqi stores. However, the lack of reliable flower farms in Iraq, primarily due to challenging weather conditions, means that these flowers often lose their aromatic properties during storage and transportation, requiring them to be sprayed with fragrances before sale.

The range of imported flowers is diverse, including various types of roses, Gypsophila, Limonium, Daisy, Narcissus, and more. Hussein notes that flowers from Lebanon, Egypt, and Iran, deemed lower in quality, are not prevalent in the Karbala market.

Sales peak during Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Women’s Day, Teacher’s Day, and religious events like the birthdays of the Imams in Sha’ban, and even during Ashura, particularly on the night of Al-Qasim’s remembrance. The culture of gifting flowers extends beyond occasions, becoming a part of everyday life in Karbala. From Christmas presents to commemorating project openings, celebrating academic achievements, and honouring the deceased with floral wreaths, flowers have become a symbol of both joy and respect.

In terms of preferences, white flowers dominate bouquets for hospital patients, while red ones are favored for Valentine’s Day. For official events like promotions and project inaugurations, yellow or sugar-coated flowers are recommended. On Mother’s Day, purple and white flowers are suggested.

Prices vary, starting from 2,500 Iraqi dinars per flower, going up to 5,000 dinars, influenced by the type of flower and exchange rate fluctuations. Bouquets begin at 20,000 dinars.

As Karbala continues to honour its historical significance, it also opens its arms to a new, vibrant tradition, one that celebrates life through the colours and scents of natural flowers.