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No more sliding into DMs. This Valentine’s Day forgo your phone and choose good old-fashioned romance—the kind your grandparents would be proud of. In an age of texts and SnapChats, nothing says I love you like a handwritten letter.
Exchanging notes has been a custom for centuries. Thanks to Chaucer and Shakespeare’s romanticization of Valentine’s Day, the holiday became popular in the Middle Ages. People across Europe traded handmade cards and tokens of affection. The holiday itself, however, came from less romantic beginnings. Although its origin has not been confirmed, Valentine’s Day may have gleaned inspiration from ancient Rome, according to NPR. During the feast of Lupercalia, which took place from Feb. 13 to 15, Roman men literally hit on women with hides from sacrificed animals to show their interest. Hardly the lovey-dovey holiday we celebrate today.
Valentine’s Day is named for Saint Valentine, a 3rd Century Roman priest who married couples in secret after Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young soldiers. This act of treason didn’t end well for Saint Valentine. When the emperor learned of Valentine’s deeds, he put the saint to death. Another legend suggests Valentine may have died while helping Christians escape Roman prisons.
Regardless of the holiday’s beginnings, we all know Valentine’s Day as a time to express love, perhaps with boxed chocolates, flowers, or romantic dinners, not to mention a surplus of Hallmark-esque cards. But with technology ever present and the urge to send a gif in place of a note at an all-time high, romance seems to fade into swipe-rights and heart-eyed emojis, about as appealing as Roman men hitting women with animal pelts.
In the spirit of true romance, I propose a revival of Valentine’s Day traditions, in particular the writing of letters. Handwritten notes were the norm until 1847, says the The Huffington Post. The later popularity of pre-written cards, although less personal, still preserved the intimacy of pen on paper. Think of all the famous swoon-worthy letters. Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich. Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife Joséphine.
My latest YA romance, Dearest Josephine, draws inspo from past eras when nothing was more intimate than handwritten letters.
If you want to add some old fashioned charm to your Valentine’s Day, here are three must-writes, all sure to impress everyone from your grandma to your significant other.
It’s no secret love letters kindle romance. Oftentimes a handwritten note filled with endearments rivals a candlelit dinner. But love letters aren’t exclusive to your special someone. They can be given to a friend, parent, sibling—anybody to whom you wish to express your admiration. Some ways to enhance your letter: Add a spritz of perfume or cologne to the stationary, seal the envelope with stamped wax, and include the following:
- Poetry, a timeless classic. According to historians, a poem written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans is the oldest known Valentine. Regardless of what you include in your poem, I’m sure your recipient will fall head over heels for the added touch.
- Dried flowers, a longer lasting alterative to roses. In Denmark, many couples send pressed white flowers called snowdrops to each other on Valentine’s Day. Including dried flowers in your letter gives a vintage aesthetic and substitutes fresh bouquets that wilt after a couple days.
A nod to Victorian traditions, this origami-like letter goes above and beyond to express love. Puzzle purses are composed of individual love letters that fit together to create an ornate design and message. Use the tutorial from VictorianTreasury.com to create a puzzle purse for your loved one this year.
Mass-produced cards trended in the late 1800s. People selected cards for their significant others that showcased their humor, often including inside jokes. You can give a modern spin to this tradition by designing your own funny card on sites like Canva and Zazzle.
Intentionality gives a letter its romantic appeal. In our digital age, handwritten words hold more significance because their writer decided to abandon easier communication methods—hello, texting—to put them onto paper. Choose the personal touch this holiday. Give your loved ones the gift of words. Who knows? Maybe your letter will one day rival Hemingway and Napoleon.
Caroline George writes YA fiction, her latest release Dearest Josephine, an epistolary romance from HarperCollins. A Georgia native, Caroline aspires to one day host The Great British Baking Show and delights in being best known for writing the phrase, “Coffee first. Save the world later.” Find her on Instagram @authorcarolinegeorge and Twitter @CarolineGeorge_.