What’s the Difference Between a Ritual and a Tradition?

Vampire family portrait (illustration)

Today marks my stepson’s final exam of his high school career. This morning, he announced his plans to treat himself to a particular type of hamburger at a particular fast food restaurant near his school once his exam was over. He explained that this was his tradition—he always goes for this burger after he finishes writing his exams.

Word nerd that I am, something about his use of tradition niggled at me. Long after he’d left for school, I found myself wondering if what he was describing was a ritual rather than a tradition. Of course, I had to look it up. So I thought I would share what I found out with all of you.


The word ritual, used as a noun, first appeared in English sometime in the 1640s. It came from the adjective of the same spelling, which, in turn, came from the Latin word ritualis, used to described things pertaining to religious rites.

Ritual can refer to a religious or solemn ceremony involving of a series of actions performed in a prescribed order. It can also refer to a series of actions or behaviours habitually and consistently followed by someone.

  • Sally’s pre-vampire hunting ritual involved eating three cloves of garlic, polishing her stakes, and spritzing herself with holy water while listening to Professor van Helsing’s audiobook.


The word tradition appeared in English in the late 1300s. It came from the Old French word tradicion, which referred to a presentation or a handing over. Tradicion, in turn, came from the Latin word traditionem, which referred to a surrender, a handing down, or a giving up. It was formed by adding the word dare, meaning to give, to the stem trans-, meaning over.

Tradition can refer to the passing down of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. It can also refer to the custom or belief that has been passed down. And it can sometimes refer to an artistic or literary style, established by a particular artist or writer, which is then followed by others.

  • No matter how hungry they were, before eating a human, the Dracula family joined hands and said words of thanks to the Dark Lord, as had been the tradition for hundreds of years.

So, let’s go back to the case of my stepson and his hamburger. If students at his school have been going to the same restaurant and ordering the same hamburger for several years, it could be considered a tradition. But, if it is something that he does on his own every semester, once his exams are finished, then it’s a ritual.


Etymological information and definitions come from a combination of the Oxford Dictionary of Etymological English, the Oxford Dictionaries Online, and the Online Etymology Dictionary.


Image credit: MabaProduct @ deviantART

A Prolonged Breath

Abandoned sofa on a vacant lot

A Prolonged Breath

He taught me how to read people’s eyes. And he taught me how to shoot a gun. Two crucial skills in this fucked-up world we now inhabit.

When the infection first showed up, it was nothing like the movies would have you believe. It didn’t spread like wildfire. It didn’t wipe out technology or turn us into savages. It was like any other outbreak. There was news coverage of the places that were hit, panels of media pundits debating CDC specialists about how the infection would spread, immunologists discussing the possibility of a cure, and footage of various fringe groups declaring that the end was nigh.

We watched it spread on the television and on our computers and smartphones. We were so cocky back then. All of us. We thought we could beat it, or that it would somehow respect international borders and remain in faraway places, where we sent monthly donations to alleviate our guilt.

Late one night, as we watched footage of the infected, he nudged me and pointed at the screen. “You can see it in their eyes.”

He was right.

The movies were also wrong about how the infection worked. You couldn’t tell if someone was infected right after they were bitten. The parasite had to make its way into your bloodstream and then across the blood-brain barrier, where it burrowed into your prefrontal cortex and got to work. You would only know four to eight hours later if someone was infected, and even then, the parasite was very good at manipulating its host. Infected people didn’t walk slowly. They didn’t foam at the mouth. They weren’t undead and they didn’t stink of decay. But they did want to tear you apart and consume your flesh. And the parasite at the helm did everything it could to get its host close enough to do just that.

Infected people didn’t talk. That was one way to identify them. But we tend to make excuses when it comes to the people we care about. You might let a silent person get too close. And then it’s too late.

But if you look in their eyes.

“There’s no person in those eyes,” he said. He’d printed a dozen images from the Internet, laid them side-by-side. Infected next to non-infected. “Do you see how vacant their eyes are? See how dilated their pupils are?”

I must have studied those pictures a hundred times before the infection crossed the water. When it finally reached our town, we were ready.

We stayed alive, joining forces with our neighbors and other survivors. We moved when we had to and holed up whenever we could. Over time, our numbers grew smaller and smaller, until it was just us again. Sitting side by side on someone else’s couch, a thousand miles from home, and so many more from the life we used to know.

He begins to stir, dragging my attention back to the present. I watch him awaken, stretching his feet like he always does. My breath catches in my throat and I wait. He sits up and turns to look at me. But he’s not there.

Before the tears can blur my vision, I steady my gun and shoot my brother in the head.


This is my response to this week’s speakeasy,
over at yeah write, where we had to make some
reference to M. C. Escher’s lithograph, Waterfall,
and use the sentence “He taught me how to read
people’s eyes
.” as the first line in our piece.

Click the badge to read the other submissions or to learn more about
the speakeasy creative writing challenge.


Image credit: srok09 @ deviantART

The Princess and the Progress

old spinning wheel

The Princess and the Progress

Once upon a time, in the Kingdom of Bygone, a royal baby was born. The king and queen had tried for many years to have a child, but with no success. As their frustration and sorrow grew, the kingdom prayed. And then, after five long years, Queen Sophie discovered she was pregnant. For nine months, the kingdom held its collective breath and King Antioch hovered nervously.

Finally, one bright spring day, the baby was born. The king and queen were now parents to the most beautiful baby girl they had ever laid eyes on. They named her Aurora and the kingdom exhaled.

When Aurora was one month old, her parents held a celebration. Everyone in the kingdom was invited, and some lined up for hours to offer gifts and blessings to the new princess. The king and queen received each guest in turn. The pile of gifts grew and the blessings included things like health, happiness, good eyesight, and a strong stomach.

As mid-afternoon rolled around, a strange-looking woman stepped up to take her turn. She had frizzy hair, dainty features, and wings. It took King Antioch a moment to realize he was actually looking at a fairy. But not just any fairy. This one clearly belonged to the Radical Fairies from the far side of the realm. As he moved in his seat, Queen Sophie placed her hand on his arm.

“We did invite everyone in the kingdom,” she said quietly.

With a grumble, King Antioch waved the fairy forward.

The fairy stepped up to Aurora’s bassinet and smiled. “The princess is so lovely,” she said. Then she began to wave her wand. “The fates they move both hot and cold, but mortals must not question why. When the princess is 18 years old, she will prick her finger on a needle and die.” The fairy grinned and vanished in a puff of smoke.

Up until then, the day had been going really well. As the fairy’s words sank in, King Antioch jumped to his feet and bellowed across the room. “The celebration is over. Everyone must leave the castle immediately.” He grabbed the bassinet, took Sophie’s hand, and practically flew to their private chambers.

After a lot of pacing and cursing, King Antioch knew what he had to do.

The following day, a Royal Decree was issued. It banned all needles and needled things from the kingdom. That included spindles, brooches, hairpins, and needles used for sewing, knitting, embroidery, cross-stitching, crocheting, needlepoint, and lace-making.

The decree created some challenges for the kingdom. For example, all clothing now had to be imported from other realms, and women had to find creative ways to keep their hair up. But the greatest challenge was finding things for the girls of the realm to do. Until the decree, while the boys of the realm went to school, the girls were taught to spin thread or sew and knit, or they learned how to make lace, or do needlepoint. They were also taught how to put their hair up. Some were lucky enough to receive lessons in music or dance, but there’s only so much singing and dancing you can do. As it was, most of the girls were left twiddling their thumbs, which was slowly driving their parents crazy.

As King Antioch listened to yet another complaint from a parent—this one with three young daughters—he found himself at a loss about what to do. Queen Sophie placed her hand on his arm.

“I have an idea,” she said. The king leaned in and Sophie whispered in his ear. When she finished, he looked at her dubiously. She raised her eyebrows. “Well, do you have a better idea?”

So King Antioch issued another decree. This one proclaimed that all girls in the realm would now be expected to attend school, just like the boys.

When Aurora was old enough, she attended school as well. She was a bright girl who grew into a bright young woman. As King Antioch watched his daughter soak up her education like a sponge, he wondered why he hadn’t insisted that girls go to school sooner. Sure, the tapestries on the castle walls were looking a little ragged with no one to repair them, but his daughter’s mastery of trigonometry held a different kind of beauty.

Eventually, Aurora’s eighteenth birthday arrived. That autumn, she set off for college. As the royal procession made its way through the countryside, they came upon a quaint museum.

“Stop,” Aurora said to the coachman. She hopped out of her carriage and wandered over to peruse the items sitting on the museum’s front lawn. “What’s that?” She pointed to a strange wooden contraption.

“M’lady.” The curator stammered, clearly unaccustomed to having visitors. “That is a spinning wheel.”

The king’s carriage pulled up behind Aurora’s. King Antioch watched in horror as his daughter approached the spinning wheel. As he moved to try and intercept her, Queen Sophie placed her hand on his arm.

“Don’t worry,” she said.

He paused, halfway out of the carriage.

“Ouch!” Aurora yelped. The king looked at his daughter. She had pricked her finger on the spinning wheel’s spindle. But, instead of collapsing to the ground, Aurora simply grinned and sucked the tip of her finger. Then she examined a few more items before turning and climbing back into her carriage.

King Antioch looked at his wife, who smiled serenely.

“Sometimes you need a little magic to make good things happen,” she said.

As understanding dawned, King Antioch got back in the carriage and the royal procession continued moving forward.


This story was inspired by this week’s WordPress Weekly Challenge, which asked us to think about a lost art. For some reason, I thought of spinning wheels, which naturally made me think of Sleeping Beauty. I hope you enjoyed my take on the fairy tale!

I’m also linking up with the moonshine grid over at the yeah write community. It’s a great place for you and your blog to hang out on the weekends.


Image credit: Svetlana Tikhonova @ PhotoXpress.com

Safe Distance


Safe Distance

Carefully, Pele Vengar applied lipstick, then stepped back to admire her handiwork. She knew it was vital to present the perfect image, especially now that she was entering the final stretch of the plan.

After a few little touch-ups, she was satisfied with the woman who returned her gaze from the mirror. Her eyes were dark and smoldering. Her mouth was soft and pouty. Her curvy shape was draped in something light and clingy that hinted at the treasure lying beneath. And long, fiery red hair cascaded over her shoulders in soft waves her namesake would have loved.

She remembered the first time she’d met him; the man she was going to see. He’d asked her why she was named Pele. She’d laughed and told him you could blame it on a combination of Hawaiian ancestry and hippie parents. He’d smiled and told her he’d known a Hawaiian guy a long time ago.

She walked over to the desk in her hotel room and checked the screen on her laptop one more time. Everything was in order. It was time to go. She closed the laptop, tossed it into her suitcase, and made her way to the front desk.

Her rental car was waiting out front. She smiled at the valet, who nearly swooned as he accepted her tip. Then she hopped in the car and made her way from Waikiki to the Queen Liliuokalani Freeway. From here, she would join up with the Veterans Memorial Freeway and head up to Oahu’s North Shore, where he was waiting for her.

She pulled up to the stunning beachfront villa he’d purchased with their spoils. It was like something out of a movie, with columns and fountains, surrounded by lush Hawaiian foliage. And there he was, standing out front, grinning like a fool. Kane Larkin, CEO of Goliath Enterprises. She parked the car, took a deep breath, and conjured a smile.

“Pele,” he said, sweeping her into an embrace, “I can’t believe we pulled it off!”

She smiled, “I told you no one would suspect you of stealing from your own company.”

“That you did.” He grinned. “Beautiful and smart. Just the way I like them.”

She doubted that, but kept right on smiling.

“Come on, let me give you the tour.” He placed his hand on the small of her back and escorted her inside.

After the tour, Kane led her to the lanai for dinner. They watched the sun set while they enjoyed excellent food and magnificent wine. He didn’t believe in moderation, which was exactly what she was counting on.

When they’d finished the second bottle, she proposed they head inside.

“Let’s play a game,” she suggested, her eyes filled with molten promises.

In that moment, he probably would have agreed to anything.

She took her time tying him to the bed, making sure her hands lingered in all the right places. The man at the hardware store back in California had assured her the rope could pull a truck, and he’d shown her how to tie a knot that wouldn’t slip. Once Kane was secure, she hopped off the bed.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, heading for the washroom.

He was patient at first, but after a few minutes, uncertainty crept into his voice.

“What’s taking so long?”

“I’ll be right out,” she called as she finished her task.

When she emerged from the washroom holding her shorn tresses, he knew things had gone off course. The hair on her head was now short and spiky, and her soft mouth was fixed in a hard line.

Kane looked at the hair. “What did you do that for?”

“An offering for Pele,” she replied, savouring his confusion.

“But, you’re—”

“I’m afraid not,” she interrupted. “My real name is Amy Kealoha.”

She watched his confusion turn into comprehension.

“I knew your father,” he said.

“You killed him.”

“No, he killed himself.”

Amy leaned over Kane. “Only after you ruined him.” She tossed the hair onto the bed. “But you can take that up with the gods that meet you on the other side.”

She pulled the detonation device from her purse. Her brother had rigged the place after Kane bought it. She would meet up with him when it was done.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “Your money will go to good use.” And with that, she turned on her heel and walked away.

“Pele! Amy! Please!” Kane yelled after her.

She never looked back, she just kept walking.


This is my response to this week’s speakeasy,
over at yeah write, where we had to make some
reference to a video prompt and use the sentence
“She never looked back, she just kept walking.” as
the last line in our piece.

Click the badge to learn more about this awesome creative writing challenge.


Image credit: arawyndesigns @ deviantART


Birthday wishes (or, what yeah write means to me)


I don’t typically write personal essays, but in honour of yeah write’s special day I am about to get all up in my own business and tell you about how I came to be the speakeasy’s managing editor.

2012 was a really bad year for me. It was the year of my ectopic pregnancy, which culminated in having to knowingly kill the life that was trying to grow in the wrong part of my body before it killed me, followed by having to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to have any more children. My son is amazing and I thank my lucky stars for him every day, but as someone who always imagined a house overflowing with children, this was a hard truth to swallow. On top of that, as someone whose life had been consumed by the trials and tribulations of infertility for so long, I found myself at the dead end of an ugly road I’d never wanted to be on in the first place.

For a while, I wallowed in the mud at the absolute bottom of my life. But I’m not cut out for long-term wallowing; I never have been. So I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and decided it was time to get to know the mud-encrusted person I’d become. That quest led to the birth of my blog, and in January 2013, a mysterious woman named Flood lured me to the speakeasy. Flood was the speakeasy’s managing editor at the time, and she also happens to be a fellow Ottawan. We became friends and I became a speakeasy devotee.

The speakeasy challenged me, inspired me, and made me a better writer. I started taking risks, both in my writing and in my personal life. I made new friends, I went zip-lining, and I wrote stories I didn’t even know I had in me.

Then, last summer, Flood asked me if I was interested in taking over as the speakeasy’s managing editor. I said yes. Okay, I might have yelled yes repeatedly while dancing around my kitchen. Either way, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

See, the team of editors here at yeah write are some of the loveliest, funniest, smartest, kindest, craziest, most creative, and most talented people I’ve ever met. You will never find a more committed bunch of people outside of an asylum. And every week, we work together to bring you the kind of challenges that actually challenge you—as writers and as human beings.

For me, the speakeasy is a labour of love. Each week, my awesome team puts together the prompts, the posts, and the Inlinkz grid. We answer emails, promote your submissions on social media, respond to comments, and troubleshoot technical issues. We read the submissions and discuss our choices for Editors’ Pick. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we beat our heads against the wall, but we’re always ready to do it all again the following week.

When I think about how I came to be the managing editor at the speakeasy, I can’t help thinking about that miserable place at the bottom of my life. It makes me thankful I’m not inclined to wallow.

There’s a moral in here. It’s simple and it’s true: Life can hand your ass to you when you least expect it. You have to decide if you’re going to wallow or if you’re going to drag your ass out of the mud and beat your own path into the future.

We’ll be waiting for you at yeah write when you do.


Thanks to all my fellow editors—and all of the participants from both challenges—
for making yeah write such a fantastic place to be!



Image credit: Nigel Dennis Wildlife Photography