Christmas was ruuuuuuuuuined.
When I was very young, it was the tradition to go to Christmas Eve mass and pick up a sheet pizza from Nirchi’s on the way home. Then, one year, we got a deep fryer…and discovered the joy of tempura. It was decided that this year, we would come home from mass, fire up the Fry Daddy (that was his name, or the brand?) and have tempura feast on Christmas Eve! Deep fried vegetables, who doesn’t love that?
My younger brother, apparently. His deep-seated objection to the deviation from our usual Christmas Eve meal kicked off a massive tantrum. He wanted pizza! Pizza was the tradition! If the tradition was broken, then Christmas is ruuuuuuined!
So I learned very young to be wary when white men cry “but it’s tradition!!!”
In the Nerdiverse, some people are very upset about the announcement that Jodie Whittaker will be The 13th Doctor. Historically, the role has always been played by a dude. Literally, a dozen dudes (more if you count the War Doctor, but, do we?).
Unsurprisingly, The Tools of the Patriarchy (that is my gender-neutral word term for douchey sexist Internet trolls) are losing their minds over the fact that The Doctor isn’t a dude because making the Doctor a dude is “tradition!” I mean….is it? “Tradition” to me is like, having pizza on Christmas. I think the word they’re looking for is “Sexism.” The fact that we’re even needing to have the conversation “Why is The Doctor always a dude?” shows you that we have a problem. And when your traditions are problematic, you change them.
This is not to say that I hate tradition. I have very few traditions in my own life because I think the Christmas tradition debacle of my youth really made me examine what the purpose of tradition is. I’m thinking right now of my traditional gluten-free Domino’s delivery on the Thursday night at the Reno house before Burning Man. Traditionally (as in, for the past two years), I’ve been alone in the house from the early afternoon until almost midnight waiting for campmates to fly in. This year, I won’t be alone. Is Reno House sneaky Domino’s RUINED?!! No, we’ll just order more pizza and share the tradition. Traditions should be flexible, they should make you happy, and they should involve pizza. I realize this is my second pizza-related tradition in one piece, but bear with me. Pizza is good. It’s a tradition I support. Eating pizza can be a sacred ritual, okay?
Somewhere along the line, “tradition” also picked up another meaning. Last week, I fell down a Twitter wormhole with the “#TradLife” hashtag and it’s….pretty appalling. “Tradition” has become another alt-right dog-whistle word meaning “white supremacy.” The nauseating implication is that white people (specifically, Straight, Cis, Christian White People), own “tradition.” Family, ritual, morality…the TradLife crowd genuinely believe they are the only ones who espouse these values.
WHAT THE FUCK IS THE MATTER WITH PEOPLE?!?!?
So, the Burning Man theme this year is “Radical Ritual.” I have been thinking about ritual and tradition and habits a lot. Mentally, I’ve been sorting the things that people interpret as “tradition” into different columns: “Ritual” and “Habit.” Reinforcing sexism and racism in our culture is, at this point, a terrible habit, not a tradition. Habit, like chewing on your fingernails, isn’t good for you, but you do it anyway. Habits can — and should — be broken.
I think pizza — my pizza, my brother’s pizza — is more of a ritual. Ritual, to me, is more of a special occurrence, not something that must be enforced. I can respect ritual. I don’t expect to live and die by ritual. I can make room for one more at my pizza party easily and happily! Or skip it altogether. Nothing will be ruuuuuuined if I don’t get that pizza. It’s great if I do! But it’s not the end of the world.
So maybe traditions should be like a sheet pizza: fun to share, with enough for everybody to take a piece.
And if you don’t like pizza… ok… we’ll break with tradition 😉
pizza image via Wikimedia Commons