With Valentine's Day around the corner, people everywhere are scrambling to figure out a special way to show their loved one they care. While a box of chocolates or a bouquet of red roses is guaranteed to be well-received, let's face it: they're not the most personal way to show your feelings.
If you're looking for a unique way of expressing affection to that special someone in your life, why not try something out of the ordinary: put pen to paper and revisit the long-lost art of letter writing.
A recent survey conducted by Ancestry revealed that nearly one-third of Canadians can't remember the last time they wrote a handwritten letter, and fewer than one-in-five say the last letter they wrote was a love letter to a partner or potential love interest.
As someone who has come across many hand-written letters during research into my own family history and into the history of other families across Canada, two thoughts come to mind after seeing this research.
First, it confirms the ever-changing shift in the communication patterns of Canadians, with a demand for instant contact and gratification -- for a lot of people it's hard to justify writing a letter when you can send an email or text message in a fraction of the time.
My second thought after realizing that the handwritten love letter is becoming a thing of the past was heartache. Not over the lack of letters themselves, but of the sentiment so frequently conveyed through love letters that just can't be shown through email, text or emoji.
I've been lucky to discover love letters from my own ancestors, but when I research famous love letters from the past the first word that comes to mind is romance. But not just any kind of romance, the kind that is fierce, passionate and all-consuming. The kind that could keep you alive while fighting overseas, or the kind that could give you the strength to start a new life halfway across the world. What's more, the letters themselves can reveal enlightening -- and romantic -- context to your family history research.
I recently came across a beautiful wartime love story discovered through a package of love letters that had been hidden away. Norah Husband (née Stevens), a resident of Cochrane, Alberta, recalls seeing a photo as a child of an unknown, handsome young man in uniform in her mother Florence's cedar chest -- a place where she kept treasured (and as it turns out secretive) items. Years later, when Florence Stevens (née Poley) passed away, Norah was sorting through the cherished chest, and of course, was drawn to the photo she had seen so many years ago, but that her mother would never talk about. What lay underneath the photo was a sight to behold: letters upon letters between Florence and her first husband, Robert Bond, a British naval officer in the merchant marines.
A collection of letters and telegraphs addressed to Florence from Robert between 1941 and 1942
Norah had never known that her father had been Florence's second husband -- but after reading the many letters from Robert to Florence when he was overseas between 1941 and 1942, she understood why her mother had never spoken of her first marriage: her heart had been broken when the man whose adoration for her was clear from every word he wrote had died during the Second World War.
"...Remember the song I used to sing to you -- 'Sweetheart if you should stray'. I'm humming it now but Florence, there's a tear in my eye -- how silly but how lovely..."
The love story of Florence and Robert is a beautiful one, yet had it not been for the love letters between the two, would have vanished with the passing of Norah's mother.
While it's easy to send your partner a heart emoji (over half of Canadians use this symbol to express their love), surely true love is worthy of more than a couple of taps on a smartphone? Taking the time to write out your true feelings can not only serve as a poignant document in the history of your relationship but it may even make you fall in love with that special someone all over again.
With Valentine's Day just a few days away, I encourage you to create an everlasting moment of connection with your loved one, and write your very own love letter using the following tips:
- Practice makes perfect. Always write a first draft on scrap paper. You may want to make changes before putting your thoughts on the final stationery.
- Let your pen be free. Let your thoughts flow freely, and be as sincere as possible. Write as though you are speaking to the person face-to-face.
- Quality versus quantity. Don't force yourself to write more than you feel is necessary. When it comes to letter writing, less can be more.
- Find inspiration. Dig up old letters written by your parents or grandparents to get inspiration on verbiage and new ways to express yourself. Better yet, ask if you can upload them to a more permanent location, like an online family tree, so that they can continue to serve as inspiration for generations to come.
- Seal it with a kiss. Get creative, and personalize your letter with a drawing, a spritz of your signature scent, or even a print of your lips.
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