Merriam-Webster defines traditions as “the handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another.” While I would not label a lot of holiday events of my childhood as traditions, we were consistent, and my family has grown to love and expect those consistencies.
However, the birth of our daughter — the first grandchild for my parents — has brought me to this moment, this intersection, and this decision to hand down a consistent habit my dad started on my first Christmas 33 years ago. It’s a collection.

I am not a collector.

Pogs were perhaps the only thing that held my attention for a period of time in my childhood. But I do have a collection of 33 enamel boxes, gifted to me by my dad every Christmas.
Each is a small box with intricate, beautifully painted designs selected or designed by my dad to represent a moment in my life over the past year. Placed in the order in which they were received, the images would tell you a story. The boxes themselves are collector items, but it’s not the boxes that make this collection invaluable. It is the tiny pieces of paper, tightly rolled up and wrapped with small pieces of red string, that hold my life as seen through my father’s eyes.

When I was younger, I viewed each box as separate.

A snapshot to add to the growing collection placed inside a glass coffee display table. One afternoon during my senior year of high school, I sat down on the living room floor and, compelled by curiosity, opened the display case and pulled out each box, one by one, and read every single note in order.
The notes, scrawled in my dad’s handwriting, show he attempted to squeeze as much as he could into each small piece of paper. Each note carries memories, my successes and struggles, and, most importantly, the love and pride of my parents. From my birth, my first day of school, learning to ride a bike, my high school graduation, my study abroad journey, the passing of my grandparents (his parents), my engagement, and my wedding, each piece of paper makes me laugh and cry, all at the same time.

My life in boxes, not segmented, separated, and confined, is a beautiful mosaic of the journey thus far.

I don’t know if my dad set out to start a tradition that first Christmas 33 years ago, but I am grateful that this Christmas — and hopefully many more — will come with a box. I know someday they won’t.

The word tradition comes from the Latin word “tradere” or to give for safekeeping.

As we enter our first holiday season with our daughter, I give to her my most favorite Christmas tradition for safekeeping. I look forward to the day when she understands the priceless gift of her own life captured in boxes, started by her grandfather, carried on by her mother, and perhaps one day passed on to her own son or daughter.
For now, my daughter will receive her first box this Christmas containing a small rolled-up note tied with a red piece of string telling her how much she is loved and the tradition that started it all.
Sarah Aspinwall
Sarah grew up in Connecticut, but Massachusetts has always felt like a second home with extended family across the state. With a master's in public health and a lifelong passion for healthcare, Sarah moved to Boston after graduation. She is a fierce advocate for better access and reducing the complexities of the healthcare system. Sarah met her husband covered in sweat and lifting weights at a local CrossFit gym (talk about first impressions!). They adopted a rescue pup from Mississippi and welcomed their daughter in 2021. After nearly a decade of city living, Sarah and her family headed to the Metro West area to start a new adventure in the suburbs. Sarah has volunteered for Community Consulting Teams of Boston (CCT), offering pro bono management consulting to Boston-area nonprofits, and she served a three-year term on the board. She is an alumna member of the Kappa Delta sorority and has served as an advisor to the Northeastern chapter since 2014.