When most people think of holiday traditions, the first thing that comes to mind is the traditional winter holidays, but one of my favorite holiday traditions falls in the beginning of the year, not the end. It’s a tradition that has been in our family for 4 generations and one that really captures what Valentine’s Day is all about. It all started one Valentine’s Day over twenty five years ago with an antique metal mailbox, a stack of note cards, and a grandma that is exactly the kind of woman that every girl wants to grow up to be. Centered around that holiday of love is the age-old tradition of letter-writing, and at a young age, that was one of my absolute favorite pastimes. Even before I could actually write, I spent hours scribbling onto stationery and hand delivering my chicken scratched cards to loved ones. But that February afternoon when my grandma unearthed the most gorgeously realistic metal mailbox any young kid could ever imagine, my days of hand-delivery were over.She placed the mailbox on the table in front of us and told me that there was something special inside just for me. This was a time of very little “just for me” and not always quite enough to go around, so the idea that there was a special surprise for me was almost too much excitement to contain. I’m fairly certain I didn’t contain myself very well when inside I found a carefully folded, beautifully scripted piece of paper that was addressed to me, and that I couldn’t read a word of. I sat mesmerized as my grandmother read me my special letter – something about how happy she was that her four grandbabies had made it up to see her and grandpa and how much she adored each and every one of us. We sat like that for a child’s eternity, listening to the clock clime on the 30s while writing miniature notes to each other and waiting for the other to receive their special delivery. Hers were always full of life and beauty and I felt so safe and so loved as I listened to her read the letters out loud. I spent the rest of the week with them writing her special scribbled notes that I would place in the mailbox and then wait for her to translate. She could spin a story faster than you could say “make believe”, and each one of my translated letters was more intricate than the last. She says that I sat there transfixed as if to say “I can’t believe I just wrote that”, a story she would happily tell you today if you happened upon her at the supermarket, the local rec center, or maybe even at the post office while you were standing in line. When I became an aunt for the first time, I searched high and low for a special mailbox to give to my nephew the Valentine’s Day right before he turned 3. I was lucky enough to live with him at the time, but since I was attending college, working full-time, and doing other teenage things, I didn’t always get to spent as much time with him as I would have liked. As a way for us to connect each day, I had been emailing my sister “word of the day” emails for him to read for quite some time, but, I was sure his holiday would not be complete without his own special mailbox like I used to have. It turns out that the mailbox my grandma had was one-of-a-kind, or at least too special for anyone to even think about selling a similar item at a thrift store or on ebay, so I ended up scouring the craft store until I found the least girly metal mailbox in the store. I couldn’t wait to bring it home to him and continue my Valentine’s Day letter writing tradition. That Valentine’s Day sparked the first of many months of letter writing between my nephew and me. Sometimes his letters were “pre-translated” by my sister with what he narrated to her as he wrote, sometimes he would trace his toys or his fingers and still other times he would let me tell him the story from his scribbles, but either way on most nights the mailbox flag would be up when I arrived home, letting me know there was a little bit of love waiting for me to enjoy. Then, as I left for work or school the next morning, I would slip a letter in for him, put the flag up, and wait for him to open the mailbox. Since that Valentine’s Day, I have made it a rule to buy or personalize a special mailbox for each of my nieces and nephews for their first Valentine’s Day of scribbling age. While I don’t have nearly the flair for writing as my grandmother does, I love that the mailboxes allow me to give just a portion of the love my grandma wrapped up in each of her scripted letters to me long ago. My grandma swears that she still has that little metal mailbox saved just for me, and I can’t help but hope that it’s true. Although a huge part of me is going to be extremely disappointed if I open it and find that there is no special letter inside from her and addressed to me, I know that the emptiness of the mailbox would soon be filled with my baby’s chicken scratches and doodles as well. One day soon, my daughter will wake up to letters written just for her by her adoring parents, and each night I hope hubby and I go off to bed smiling at something sweet she “mailed” just for us. It’s my hope that she will celebrate Valentine’s Day with me all year long, and not retire her mailbox mid February like most children do. Eventually my grandma will tell her all these stories of that Valentine’s Day long ago, and I have to imagine she won’t believe that her mom was ever as young as her or ever needed a translator to communicate. But then again, her children aren’t going to believe she was ever that young, either, when she gives them their first mailbox and the Valentine’s Day tradition continues. Making your own Valentine’s Day Tradition Now that I’ve got you excited about making this a Valentine’s tradition in your family, I’ve got a few ideas and inspiration for making Valentine’s Day last all year: 1. Get a small pad of paper and envelopes if you can, it definitely adds to the appeal and it means that if your child writes a letter to someone who doesn’t actually live with you, you can easily write in the address later and pop it in your real mailbox. 2. Small stickers make wonderful stamps, and, when purchased at the dollar store, are a small fraction of the cost of your child using a whole book of real stamps in order to get the real mail experience. 3. For a fun craft project, you can make fabric envelopes or decorated cardboard boxes for packages that make getting the mail even more fun. If you aren’t crafty at all, you could always buy some on Etsy for some really reasonable prices. 4. Mailboxes aren’t just for letters! You can put special treats, toys, and odds and ends in the mailbox for surprises year-round. By placing small items in jewelry store boxes or your homemade craft boxes, you can “wrap” them for delivery quickly and easily. 5. If your child is a bit young for writing letters, you can still use the mailbox to leave them little surprises. You can slip in postcards and pictures, hide a small toy, or put their greeting cards inside from past holidays and then wait for your child to find them. 6. On the other hand, mailboxes aren’t just for small kids; you can get everyone in your family their own personalized mailbox and make sorting your actual mail simple and foolproof. Mailboxes are perfect for organizing your family command center, and for making it easy for busy families to connect. While you can leave their to-do lists, allowances, and paperwork that needs filled out, they can leave you their per
mission slips, finished thank you notes, and other mail to go out so you can make sure nothing gets lost in a sea of paperwork. 7. Mailboxes these days come in all shapes and sizes, and really just about any box would make a wonderful mailbox with just a little imagination. I do strongly advise that you affix a flag of some sort that can be raised to indicate a full box. 8. Buying a mailbox is not cheating, and when you’re searching a dollar bin and find one, it would be silly not to get it. I usually can find a few good metal ones after the holidays are over, and then I use them for craft containers until I personalize it for a little one in my life. In a large family like mine, you can never have too many mailboxes!
Leanne is the owner and editor of Rave and Review and spends her time chasing after kiddos and trying to be crafty. You can find her all over the Pacific Northwest and traveling with her family. In fact, if you see a girl at your local store with her arms full of clearance mailboxes, it just might be her.