By Liliana Castillo: Freedom New Mexico
With homecoming games just around the corner, mums will soon be blossoming across the eastern New Mexico.
As homecoming nears, area florists are stocking up on extra ribbons in Wildcat purple, Texico green, Grady blue, Portales red, Melrose maroon and others, as well as silk chrysanthemum flowers.
Starting around the 1920s, the original design of the homecoming mum was simply a chrysanthemum flower attached to a ribbon that allowed the “mum” to be attached to a piece of clothing. Since then, mums have evolved to use silk replicas of the flower, adding to their durability.
Aileen McAlister, owner of Butterfly Floral and Gifts in Portales, said using silk flowers has made personalizing a mum an endeavor with infinite possibilities.
“They like to put their names on it, or the number of the football player they’re rooting for,” McAlister said. “They choose lots of different items that go on there.”
McAlister has made mums for more than 26 years. Before opening her florist shop, she made mums from home for the her sons, who attended Dora schools, and soon found herself making mums for several of the students.
“They’ll add horns for band students, hearts or order specialty ribbons that say something specific,” she said.
In the beginning, mums were given by a boyfriend to a girlfriend, and while that tradition continues on today, giving “friendship” mums has also gained popularity. When a boy gives a girl a mum, he wears a garter on his arm, which is designed to match the mum.
McAlister has seen this trend unfold.
“It’s changed over the years. Twenty to 25 years ago, mostly boyfriends bought the mums. Now I see a lot of parents buying them for the girls, or girls buying them for themselves,” she said.
But a mum is more than a symbol that someone thought about you, McAlister said. It’s about school spirit.
“They always go with their school colors,” she said. “I think it boosts the spirit for the team. And the girls enjoy them.”
Mark Mitchell of Clovis Floral, who has worked in the family owned business for more than 20 years, said mum-giving used to be a serious business, but has died off recently.
“If you talk to people from other places in the country, they don’t have any idea what a mum is. It’s a dying trend. It’d kind of sad to see,” he said.
Mitchell said he starts received orders for mums about a month before homecoming. He said Clovis Floral receives about 150 orders a year.
But the biggest change over time, Mitchell said, is that the mums have gotten bigger.
“I guess mums started a long, long time ago. Girls used to wear a corsage to homecoming. People started adding ribbons and it kind of exploded into mums. They’ve gotten bigger and bigger and bigger every year. Sometimes I don’t know how the girls wear them. They’re heavy,” he said.