My grandparents’ house had a line of portraits of my cousins and I on the wall along the stairs. You could practically watch yourself grow older every few steps. Some of the photos they displayed were the kind done in studios, set against an unconvincing garden backdrop. Other photos were school pictures, a new one added to the wall each year.
Getting your “school picture” taken is a sort-of tradition, because it’s a repeated action that bears significance, which is my personal definition of a tradition. However, hanging up that sometimes-awkward annual photograph isn’t the only tradition that can mark who you were at one point in time. All traditions provide a look into the past, a reminder of who you have been.
Decorating the house is perhaps the most underrated holiday tradition, because it is so commonplace. Every year my family decorates our Christmas tree together, and every ornament we place on its branches holds a particular significance. Some ornaments were hand-made by family or friends and have sentimental value. Other ornaments are the ones my sister and I picked out over the years, many of which are related to whatever we liked the most at the time. From very detailed American Girl ornaments to a The Office ornament that speaks in Michael Scott’s voice, many of my contributions to the Christmas tree are more relevant to me today out of nostalgia than because the things they depict still interest me.
They remind me of playing with historically-themed dolls with my best friend in elementary school, or of reading the Harry Potter series for the first time, or those three months in eighth grade when I was really into The Office. There’s not any deep, dramatic symbolism to the fact that once, I really wanted a particular ornament and now when I hang it up I just think, “Aw, that’s nice.” However, the old ornaments don’t just have sentimental value; they’re important reminders of the some things I thought were important when I first hung them on the tree. On the other hand, I think that other traditions can reveal deeper things about who we are now.
Every year, I try to read as much of Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares as I can. Written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, the novel follows two teenagers (Dash and Lily) during Christmastime in New York City. Dash hates Christmas, Lily loves it, etc. The duo sends each other on a sort of scavenger hunt around the city, becoming closer and expanding their personal horizons over the days leading up to the New Year.
It’s a sweet, hilarious read that has really held up in my eyes over the four years since I first read it. It came out during my freshman year of high school, and I can recall relating to its female lead character, Lily, the first time I read it. At the beginning of the book, Lily is kind, excitable, and bookish, but sort-of dainty and naïve; over the past few years, I’ve possessed most of those qualities to varying degrees. This year, I reacted differently to the character than I had in the past, seeing her in a different light. It made me realize that some things about myself had changed.
When I re-read the book this year, I didn’t see as much of my current self in beginning-of-the-book-Lily. As I continued (re)reading, I realized that these days, I might be more similar to end-of-the-book-Lily, and that’s okay. If I hadn’t re-read the book this year, I might not have even been conscious of how much I’ve changed over the past few years.
My personal growth over four years has changed the way I relate to the story, but it hasn’t changed how much I enjoy it. Traditions have given me plenty to reflect on over the last few years in regards to change: how my life, interests, or personality have morphed over the years. Tradition does not have to be a way of holding on to the past in a negative way, like resisting change. Instead, tradition can be a way of embracing and accepting change; traditions give us opportunities to remember or re-live “the way things were” even as we progress through life.