“But it’s traditional.”

Recently, I have been studying more Italian, and using it more to speak, as well (Maybe I’ll finish No Ho Paura this year, even!). Yesterday Italian Easter traditions came up in conversation. Pupi cu l’ova are traditional Italian Easter biscuits, they are apparently delicious and make Italians super nostalgic. But, as a lot of traditions do, they are gender segregated. Girls get a doll shaped cookie, boys get a horse or another animal, pregnant women get a doll with an egg to represent their swollen bellies. I frowned at the division, although the egg/belly equivalence I found ingenious. My conversational partner agreed it was not good, but shrugged it off, saying, “It’s traditional.”

Traditions are things that we do again and again. They become traditional because we give meaning to repetition, as if our performing an action again and again ritualizes it. This is human nature. It is also human to grow fond of traditions, of ‘the way things are’. But another name for ‘the way things are’ is ‘status quo’ or ‘deal with it if the way things are is not in your favour.’ If something is a tradition, that is all the more reason to question it because it is not an isolated incident but a consistent behaviour through time that will probably be transmitted to newer generations as valuable.

I am an extremely picky person in pretty much all aspects of my life: I like things done my way. So I get the feelings of attachment people develop for things they have done all their lives, things that perhaps they learned from people they have lost and they feel connect them to those people.

But tradition is not a reason, it’s a habit, and like all habits it’s both difficult to break and important to question. If a tradition is sexist or racist, do we want to perpetuate it? Pupi aren’t going to convince girls and boys that they are essentially different, but they are reinforcing stereotyping (like dress codes, colour codes, permissible activities and preferences, etc ad nauseum.) Knowing that our actions shape our thoughts, that would imply that we wish to keep having sexist and racist thoughts, which will in turn lead to more actions of the kind.

Of course, traditions can be updated, keeping the spirit of the thing but not the letter. My friend didn’t say anything about how the number of eggs in a ‘pupa’ depends on the importance of the person and so the head of household/patriarch would get more eggs than anybody else. Apparently some people got fed up with that, at least. If I could make up a tradition, I’d ask each person what kind of shape they would like.

Delicious homemade food is a tradition I am a 100% behind, and freedom to choose is an upgrade that goes well on any activity. What do you think?

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