I haven’t sent a greeting card in at least a decade. A couple of weeks ago, however, a friend from back home contacted me to ask if I would be willing to help out her neighbor’s child with a class project. She passed along a letter that read:
“Kindergarteners are preparing to learn about our country next month! We will learn how to look at a map, use a compass rose to tell directions, and discuss some of the states! We are asking for your help! We need valentines sent to us! If you know anyone outside of Ohio that would be willing to send a valentine to your child at school, we would be so thankful! As we receive these valentines we will chart them on the map and pin their location. Children will bring their valentines home at the end of the month when we finish our project! We will be mapping valentines the whole month of February!”
Though I would never refuse a request from this particular hometown friend, I was especially delighted to honor this one.
A few days after receiving the request I learned that Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia) was collecting Valentine’s Day cards to send to Virginia's Veterans Hospitals. This struck a sentimental chord with me. Many years ago, when I was administrator of my hometown’s Chamber of Commerce, I purchased a massive Christmas Stocking for a project I called, “Operation: Stocking Stuffer.” The concept was similar to that of Congresswoman Spanberger. In this case, however, the goal was to collect Christmas cards to fill the stocking. The cards were then distributed at Kansas Veterans Hospitals.
Inspired by a friend and a member of Congress, both of whom I admire, I found myself in the greeting card aisle browsing the Valentine’s Day selection, searching for the perfect one to send a kindergartener and a veteran.
Some people refer to Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark Holiday,” though at least one legend suggests that the first Valentine was sent by the man himself: St. Valentine of Rome. It’s said that the imprisoned would-be saint fell in love with his jailor’s daughter. According to this tale, Valentine wrote the young lady a note signed “from your Valentine.”
A millennia later in 15th-century France, the 14th of February became a day set aside to celebrate love. It was around that same time that a Frenchman sent what is said to be the earliest surviving Valentine. While imprisoned in the Tower of London, the Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife: “Je suis desja d'amour tanné, ma tres doulce Valentinée.” Which roughly translates, “I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine”. Today, the letter is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library, which also holds the oldest surviving Valentine’s letter written in the English language. That letter was written 62 years later, in 1477, by Margery Brews to her fiancé, John Paston, whom she referred to as, “right well-beloved Valentine.”
In 1784, perhaps the most familiar Valentine’s poem made its first appearance in a collection of nursery rhymes:
“The rose is red, the violet's blue,
The honey's sweet, and so are you.”
Valentine's Day cards started gaining popularity in the 18th century, but it wasn't until 1913 that Hallmark began selling them. So, while the company cannot actually claim Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark holiday,” it estimates that 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, not including the childrens’ valentines popular in classroom exchanges.
If the requests from both my friend and the congresswoman prove anything, it’s that Valentine’s Day cards don’t have to be sent exclusively between lovers. Receiving a valentine, like we did in elementary school, has a remarkable way of warming one’s heart in the cold of February. Indeed, the act of sending a valentine makes both the sender and the recipient feel good.
The act of sending a sentimental letter soothed the restless hearts of St. Valentine and the Duke of Orleans as they passed the time in their prison cells. Many of us are prisoners of loneliness, bereavement, depression, and sadness. Perhaps this Valentine’s Day we could start a new tradition of sending a greeting card to somebody whose heart has grown cold this winter. Though it’s a simple act, imagine the impact it could have on someone to receive a special card letting them know that somebody cares.
In a world starved for love that seems to be growing more divided each day, perhaps a “Hallmark holiday” is exactly what we need right now.
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