Americans may have just embarked on these most ritualistic weeks of the year stretching between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, but something is clearly different this time around.
It isn't that the customary rites show signs of change. Americans roasted ceremonial turkeys by the million on Thanksgiving Day to sustain themselves as they hunt and gather goods to disperse during Hanukkah or on Christmas morning. There will be fewer big-ticket items and more discounted goods given this year, but that's not the difference. Nor am I sensing resistance to red and green, nor a break in the continuous loop of "Silver Bells" and "Silent Night" that, by melodic rote, choreographs the patterns of holiday behavior.
In other words, everything promises to look and sound what you might call traditional. But the fact is, "traditional" is out. The rock-solid assumptions on which society is built have gone wobbly, while the guideposts to "traditional" behaviors are, of course, long gone.
That's the lesson of the poisonously volcanic aftermath to Proposition 8, the ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman, which California voters approved on Election Day by a margin of 52.5 to 47.5 percent.
How can "traditional" be out when what is now being labeled "traditional marriage" won at the polls?
To begin with, framing husband-wife nuptials as "traditional" marriage already implies the existence of alternative forms of wedlock. Indeed, the very act of throwing open the definition of marriage to a vote reveals how dramatically notions of the traditional have already changed, transformed beyond even recognition to prior generations.
In a state that Barack Obama won, 61 percent to John McCain's 37 percent, "traditional marriage" also triumphed, clearly but not overwhelmingly, due to strong support -- exit polling indicates -- from church-going voters, senior citizens, Republicans, a slim majority of Hispanic voters, and a whopping 70 percent of black voters. Yet the question remains: despite the will of the California electorate, how has tradition fallen from favor?