A woman reading in a car

“Letters to My Younger Self” is a series focused on wisdom and self-awareness. Just as you write letters to a friend to encourage and uplift them, here is the advice we would go back and tell our younger selves.

Dear 16-year-old me,

As you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, notice the pajamas at your place setting, just as they have been since you were a child.

An early visit from Santa. You feel alone in your love for tradition. To you, tradition and the holidays are coupled; tradition is the unifying glue that sustains the magic of the season. The pajamas are a gesture from your mom that she has not forgotten this about you. 

You see tradition as tangible constants—practices to return to each year despite the many changes that occur over the span of 12 months. It grounds you. Something within you stirs when you hear “O Holy Night” sung at your childhood church on Christmas Eve by the same vocalist every year. His voice smooth as butter, filling the sanctuary. Goosebumps and tears accompany a standing ovation. You look over at your best friend.

Now it feels like Christmas,” we agree. This scene has repeated itself for the last eight years.

As your family makes their way through the front door home and begins to fill the seats at the dinner table, take inventory of the people gathered together for another California Christmas. At 16, you will have never lived a day of life without them. Linger at the table after dinner. Sit and listen to the mingling of the voices that raised you. It won’t be long until cancer leaves two empty seats.

Take inventory of the people gathered together for another California Christmas…It won’t be long until cancer leaves two empty seats.

You wake up in the same room as your siblings the next morning, just as you have for the past 15 years. It feels ceremonial, like a lucky ritual to guide you into a merry Christmas. Savor it.

In the coming years, your siblings will enter college and serious relationships. Tradition will fall to the wayside and frustration will arise in you—hurt disguised as anger.

“Does anyone care?” you’ll ask, trying to fight back tears after your annual Christmas plate painting is canceled. You desperately want to retain the glittering charm of the season. Really, you fear your childhood is being swept away by busy schedules.

You fight the urge to care. You will always care. It will show itself in more than your attentiveness to holiday traditions. It will take years, but you will begin to recognize caring as a strength.  

It is caring that will sustain 20-year long friendships and be the foundation for new ones. I know how badly you want deep relationships right now; do not grow weary in praying for them. In five years you will sit in your college home, in the company of tangible answers to these prayers. Keep pressing in.  

Keep pressing in.  

It is caring that will prompt you to give generously, of your time and resources, to friends and strangers. Your tender heart, a weapon against passivity. I know it feels lonely right now. That you have been made to feel silly for clinging to tradition. 

You will learn that pajamas at your Thanksgiving table or sending out family Christmas cards are weak substitutes for a living room packed with the people you love. You will also learn that it’s OK to want both.

Keep caring. Effort is not weakness. 

Love,
Your older self

What advice would you give to your younger self during the holidays knowing what you know now? What are your most fond memories from previous Christmases?

Image via Frank Terry, Darling Issue No. 13

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