Project Old is Gold: Family Heirlooms and Traditions

I married into a house with a white Christmas tree. I thought it was kind of… ugly. When I made fun of it, my spouse jokingly told me that he bought it because you could decorate it for every holiday.


Little did he know this was to become a defining family tradition. Our “holiday tree” has a permanent home in our living room and is indeed decorated for every important holiday and season…

This has led to a second tradition- collecting ornaments from every place we visit. This is a creative endeavor because holiday ornaments are not always available in the summer… so in some cases we have found objects that can be used as ornaments. Sometimes expensive art objects. Sometimes funky key chains.

Will these eclectic, sometimes kitschy, ornaments be considered a family heirloom some day? Perhaps. I know many people who cherish an expensive china set or string of pearls. But for me, the heirloom that I treasure is this-

A plaster piggy bank straight from the 1970s. Is it worth much? No. Is it objectively beautiful? Maybe not. So what is the value?

I can remember this pig from every house my grandmother ever lived in. I had a weird obsession with it as a child. It reminds me of my family in an almost visceral way. I love this plaster pig. And maybe my children will feel the same way about that key chain I bought from a street vendor in Shanghai.

This is an important lesson for preservation. It can be easy to focus on “grand” places, designed by “important” people. But what makes a place matter is much more complicated, layered and nuanced. The last few decades has seen the rise of a more pluralistic, intersectional preservation. But we still have a long way to go to ensure the rich diversity and vibrancy of our nation is recognized and celebrated.