Humans are absorbent… and squishy

Last night I was catching up on my Colbert viewing (Hulu is a lifesaver because I don’t always have time to watch my favorite shows) and the whole “Santa is white” debacle was featured. It struck me the first time it came up as extremely stupid (and shades of racism), but now it kind of collided with other ideas that I’ve been thinking about recently into a new idea – humans are super absorbent.

I make a point in my thesis on vampires (that Eric Nuzum made in his book, “The Dead Travel Fast”) that vampires are a lot like Santa Claus – every culture adapts them to suit their own needs. That’s why you get so many different pictures of Santa (or Father Christmas or St. Nick or whatever). Or why you get so many different kinds of vampires (or why modern-day Dracula is so different than Gothic, original Dracula).

Human beings are adept at absorbing things into their lives. And, given enough time, we forget why we do certain things. We just do them.

It can be cultural (something a larger group does) or individual. For example, I write the names of the winner of a game in the box lid of my board games. It’s something I absorbed from a friend’s post online. The American culture likes thinking of a work day from 9 to 5 (even though that’s not necessarily true of everyone, and it wasn’t always true for Americans). These are things we just absorbed at some point.

There was a great story I read growing up about how an adult daughter was making Thanksgiving dinner for her family for the first time at her house. When her mother came she saw that the daughter had put a roasting pan on top of the turkey (as well as the one it was sitting in) while it was cooling. The mother asked, “why did you put a pan on top of your turkey?”

The daughter responded, “because that’s how you always did it.”

The mother laughed and said, “but you don’t have a cat.”

It’s funny the things we just absorb. And it’s funny that humans are so absorbent. If you think about it, generally people don’t like change. Yet, paradoxically we’re always changing. I loved in the Christmas special of Doctor Who when they pointed this out. “When you think about it,” The Doctor said, “we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay.” I feel so different than the person I was ten years ago, I often wonder how different I’ll feel in another ten years.

Absorbing is part of our identity too. Part of my heritage is that we open Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. A tradition that came from my mom’s side of the family. It’s something that probably came out of our English ancestors. I kind of like that. A sense of doing something because people before me did it that way.

We make popcorn in my house because my dad worked with his parents on a popcorn stand that traveled through Wisconsin. Somehow eating popcorn invokes memories of my grandparents (both of whom are now in heaven). My nieces now eat popcorn too. Three generations of pop corn people. I like that.

In another sense, I absorbed Mexican culture growing up. It wasn’t something in my family line before. Yet, now I want to call little kids mijo and mija. Mexican music is rather soothing to me. I find it hard to be at big parties where people go off by age or gender (white parties are the worst at this). I feel like Mexican parts of SoCal are home.

So absorb away. If you can hang on to why you’re changing. Tell the stories to your kids so they can trace your history. Absorb the good, jettison the bad. That’s what people do.

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