Tag Archives: USA

It’s all the same, isn’t it?

That’s at least what I thought. But it turned out that there are quite a lot of differences even in the most basic Christmas traditions. I was lucky to be able to spend last year’s Christmas with my friends and their families in California and I was really surprised about my American Christmas experience.

Christmas season begins…

My_American_Christmas__Elisa_Kirchmeier._4To begin with, Christmas doesn’t start with an advent season. Good luck finding an advent wreath or even an advent calendar. Christmas time begins when Thanksgiving is over and after you’ve survived Black Friday horror. It seems like everything has switched to an “all Christmas format”. Radio and TV channels, shops which turn into little Christmas heavens overnight, simply everything. It’s impossible to pass a house which isn’t fully illuminated by lights, hundreds of reindeer figures, snowmen or Santa Clauses. Everything stands under the motto: the more the better, the brighter the better. It even becomes a thing or a nightly leisure activity to drive around, to go Christmas light sightseeing and to admire all the decorated houses. In the middle of December I got invited to an “ugly Christmas sweater” party. Ugly Christmas Sweater Party? Imagine a bad taste party, but you must wear the ugliest Christmas sweater you can possibly find. And by ugly I mean really ugly, like an illuminated, talking Santa on your boobs.

The tree

My_American_Christmas__Elisa_Kirchmeier.__3As Christmas came closer, we wanted to put up the Christmas tree. We turned on some Christmas music and lit the fire. But when I asked my friends when we would finally drive to buy a Christmas tree, they just answered: “yeah, we already have one in our garage.” I don’t know what I found more shocking. The fact that it was plastic or that it was white.

Christmas day itself

The 24th is generally a normal day. Like everywhere else in the world, everybody is trying desperately to find presents last minute. But instead of exchanging presents and having a three-course menu for dinner on Christmas Eve, I was proven wrong. You only get one present, which is usually a stocking (filled with little knick-knacks) handed out every year to hang under the chimney and a light meal.

25th: Since I missed the German Christmas dinner (back home) on December 24th – I was expecting a huge Christmas brunch the next day. But I was wrong – again. The whole house wakes up early in the morning only to rush into the living room to see what Santa Claus has left underneath the “Christmas tree”. And – since it’s America – he has left a lot. I´d never seen so many presents – even the dogs got wrapped presents. I guess the hanging sock was just an ambitious understatement because they couldn’t have possibly fit one single present in that sock. My_American_Christmas__Elisa_KirchmeierBy one o’clock they were still unwrapping their presents and the only food we’d so far was one cinnamon roll two to five egg nogs, the delicious American version of egg liquor. My hopes for the big brunch were shrinking more and more. After the present handover, the cooking started. I was already starved by now and the egg nog wasn’t helping either. And then, finally the best part about Christmas started. The food. I was certain that after the amount of stuffed turkey, mashed potato and gravy and afterwards plum pudding, ginger bread and pumpkin pie I ate, I would never eat again.

Because like everything in the US, Christmas dinners are massive.

Text & Picture: Elisa Kirchmeier

Independence Day: The fourth of July

If you happen to spend the 4th July with a bunch of Americans today, you will most likely be having a backyard barbeque with burgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, coleslaw and watermelon, the juicy ripe red watermelon everyone loves and can’t get enough of. All of this is often served on paper plates. Cans of beer, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Snapples, Coke or Pepsi are kept in cooling bins full of crushed ice. Perhaps little paper flags or streamers displaying the typical colors of the Star-Spangled Banner will be part of the decoration.

Maybe the town will offer picnic and barbeque opportunities at some public area. Baseball games, parades, concerts and other summertime events mark this national holiday. Politicians might even appear at different celebrations holding speeches on all kinds of freedoms.  Most likely there will be fireworks, too, in honor of the birthday of the United States of America.

Although Independence Day is a significant American holiday, it doesn’t dominate the summer as Thanksgiving and Christmas dominate the fall and winter season. For instance, there are no greeting cards in the stores. Along with beach parties, family trips and BBQs that dot the summer months, the Fourth of July is one of many typical summer events. School will have been out for a month already and another month and a half to go.

But what is Independence Day originally about? 

The English established their first permanent settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. By 1733 there were 13 English colonies: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island. These colonies were ruled by the King of England, King George III.  Over time the relationship between the settlers and the British began to crumble due to unfair laws and taxes and the growing sense of nationalism in the colonies. In short: people didn’t want to be ruled by a king so far away.It´s_time_that_we_become_independent_jefferson

A letter to King George III

The Continental Congress – a meeting of delegates from the thirteen colonies –  appointed five leaders, called the Committee of Five. They were meant to write the King a formal letter. These five men were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman and Thomas Jefferson. Their letter explained why Congress had voted to declare Independence. This Declaration of Independence contained three essential points:

  1. Beliefs of what made a government good
  2. The dislike of the oppressive government
  3. Break with Great Britain

On July 4th, 1776 Congress officially adopted the final version of the Declaration of Independence. On August 2nd, all 56 delegates of the Continental Congress signed it.

A holiday is born

Following its adoption, the Declaration of Independence went viral in various cities, by word-of-mouth, being read aloud before troops and published in newspapers or delivered on horseback and by ship. Whenever heard, people shouted and cheered.

People continued this tradition by lighting candles, setting off fire crackers, firing guns and ringing bells.

Finally, Congress declared July 4th a federal holiday in 1941.

 

Author & Picture: Elisabeth Stützel

“A day without laughter is a day wasted”

Everybody knows Charlie Chaplin because of his fame as actor, filmmaker and composer of the silent era. But I bet you don’t know everything about him…

Let’s start with a short biography:

Charlie Chaplin was born in London in 1889. His birth name was Charles Spencer Chaplin, though he had many nicknames such as Charlie, Charlot and The Little Tramp. Charlie Chaplin went to the United States in 1910, at the age of 21, trying to become a professional actor. Two years later, Chaplin signed his very first contract and entered into the famous world of Hollywood. He grew to become one of the most popular and successful actors of that time. The moment that really kicked off his long career was in 1921 when he produced his first full length film called “The Kid”. From then on, most people all over the world knew Charlie Chaplin and loved his movies. He had a great career and life. He died in Switzerland in 1977, at the age of 88.

#1: Charlie Chaplin once won the third prize in a Charlie Chaplin look-charliechaplina-like contest

I know, you’re probably thinking, are you kidding?! This is a myth that has been around for a long time, but there is no direct record of it happening, and all of the claims are anecdotal. This anecdote, told by Lord Desborough, whoever he may have been, was quite widely reported in the British press at the time, so it was assumed that this is the source of an urban myth. However it may be true!

#2: Charlie Chaplin once confessed he had sexual relations with more than 2,000 women   

He had a fondness for young women. Chaplin was married four times and had eleven children. He was 29 and his first wife was 16 when they married. His second marriage was to Lita Grey, who was 16, when he was 35. His third and possibly fictional marriage to Paulette Goddard, occurred when he was 47 and she was 28. Chaplin married his last wife, Oona O’Neill, shortly after she turned 18 while he was 54.

#3: Charlie Chaplin’s corpse was stolen

Three months after Chaplin died on Christmas 1977, his body was stolen in an effort to extort money from his family. Chaplin’s body was recovered eleven weeks later after the grave robbers were captured. He is now buried under six feet of concrete to prevent further theft attempts.

#4: Charlie Chaplin has an asteroid named after him

3623 Chaplin (1981 TG2) is a main belt steroid between Mars and Jupiter, which was named after Charlie Chaplin. It was discovered on October 4, 1981 by Ms. Karachkina.

#5: Charlie Chaplin never became a U.S. citizen

He was exiled from the USA in 1953 because he refused to accept the American citizenship. That’s why he lived in Switzerland during his exile years and then died there.

#6: Charlie Chaplin’s imprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame were removed

Because he was suspected of being a communist, his imprints were removed from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and were afterwards lost.

Author & Pictures: Deborah Ghezzi

Christmas in the Park

100_0354When visiting California, USA, there are a lot of different things to see that come to mind. Whether it’s San Francisco with the Golden Gate Bridge, the Victorian Houses and Pier 39, Los Angeles with its famous Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills and Hollywood, Monterey with its great Monterey Bay Aquarium and Whale Watching Tours or national parks like Yosemite or fun parks like Disneyland, these sights are all well known and you already know about these tourist magnets I’m sure. But what you mightn’t already have heard of is “Christmas in the Park”, which takes place every year for about five weeks in San Jose.

Festive displays and brimmed trees

Christmas in the Park (CITP) dates back to the 1950s. Free to the public – donations are appreciated – every year there are around five 100_0365hundred decorated Christmas trees on display in the park, which is located in Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park in Downtown San Jose. The trees are decorated with different kinds of ornaments by school classes, kindergarten classes, local companies and community organizations. Every tree is very unique and shines with all its really individual embellishments. In addition to firs, you’ll find a set of displays that are set up lovingly. There are, for example, elf woodcrafters, a candy store, a Little Swiss Clockmaker’s Shoppe, a melting snowman and let’s not forget Santa’s booth. Of course, there are also vendors – food or other merchandise – so everyone will find a way to spend money, if they want to.

Not only for kids

100_0363Obviously, Christmas in the park is a well-designed family venue, as it offers a lot for kids to discover. They’re bound to love the fact that Santa’s actually sitting there in his booth and they can tell him about their dearest wishes for Christmas, while their parents are taking snapshots. For those who prefer to have professional photos, there’s even a photographer. The quality pictures can be picked up a few minutes later. But not only are the youngest among us bound to enjoy the decorated park. The festive trees might also give adults some new ideas for trimming their own tree at home – or they can simply enjoy the park.

“Christkindlesmarkt” is different

100_0367What I really liked during my visit was the special atmosphere. You can walk around the park with all the nicely-decorated trees and the other festive displays. It can’t be compared to a “Christkindlesmarkt” that we’ve been very familiar since we were small. While you’re surrounded by the holiday glitter, you se e the large palm trees in the Californian setting, which gives you a unusual kind of experience, especially if this is the first time you’ve spent the holiday season away from the usual “Let’s hope there’s snow at Christmas” thinking. Don’t hope for snow in San Jose because, you know, it’s not gonna happen.

Address: Plaza de César Chávez, 1 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA 95113, USA

You need more information? Go to www.christmasinthepark.com

Author & Pictures: Angela Czygann

4 shows you need to watch before you die

Yes, I admit it. I’m a total series addict! Watching my favourite shows is pure joy for me and the best way to relax after a stressful day. Having to wait from week to week until the next episode airs is sheer torture for me and God forbid if my favourite show takes a TV hiatus and the next summer/winter/autumn/spring/whatever break approaches. So here are four of my favourite shows that’ll most probably get you hooked in an instant as well.

outlanderOutlander

I only recently started watching this brilliant historical-drama show and finished the first season within a few days – binge-watching alarm! If you like Game of Thrones you’ll love Outlander! Based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon it revolves around the British combat nurse Clare Randall who mysteriously finds herself transported from her own time in 1945 back to Scotland in 1743, where she’s immediately thrown into an unknown and dangerous world. She encounters a young (and very, very handsome) Scottish Highlander and is more and more torn between her two irreconcilable lives.

Jane the Virgin

Funny, romantic, satirical and really captivating – that’s Jane the Virgin. With its sweet telenovela mocking style you’ll feel pure joy watching it. It’s about the young virgin Jane who accidentally gets artificially inseminated! It’s as crazy as it sounds and I promise this show will brighten your day!

The Walking Dead

Nothing new, but still not on everybody’s list – even though it should be! Every episode leaves you longing for the next one. It’s based on a comic book series and as the title already says, we find ourselves in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies. A group of survivors struggle to get along with the new world. But it’s not only the zombies who are a danger – some humans are even more dangerous. Also you can never be sure which of your favourite characters is going to die next. No one is safe! So if you’re looking for a show which gives you the creeps, but in a very good way – The Walking Dead is perfect for you!

Modern Family

I love, love, love it. Seriously, this is the funniest show you’ll ever see and it will leave you with stomach ache from laughing. The genre is a ‘mockumentary’ (nope, haven’t heard of it before either, so let me google that for you: “a type of film or television show in which fictional events are presented in documentary style to create a parody”), so the characters are frequently talking directly into the camera. The storyline revolves around the lives of Jay Prichett, and his family which includes his second wife, his stepson and infant son as well as his two adult children and their spouses and children. It’s currently airing its seventh season, so you have a lot to catch up on!

Author & Pictures: Katja Rollinger

New York City – aftermath of the election

One of the most vicious elections in history, the biggest story of 2016, the gaudy circus, the bitter fight for the White House or the mud-slinging Clinton vs Trump – whatever one may choose to call it – resulted in reactions all over the world. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States, New York seemed to be in turmoil. Hundreds of people marched to protest against Trump’s election. The streets were filled with people chanting slogans, traffic jams, honking cars and police officers. Three students from University of Augsburg sum up their different impressions and experiences on their study trip to New York with Prof. Dr. Middeke right after the election…

posters

Carolin

You couldn’t pass a television or newspaper kiosk without seeing Trump’s face. The election was omnipresent – you heard people discussing the recent event everywhere. Once a young woman and two cab-drivers wanted to know what we Germans thought about this topic. We all admitted that we’d never expected Trump to win, and that we thought his victory was a bitter pill. I only talked to one older man who voted for Trump and claimed ‘Trump has no experience and no experience means good experience. He’s neutral and powerless.’ The conversations I had really made me think about people and their attitude towards democracy.

Michaela

I thought we’d see more riots and more upset people, but the New Yorkers seemed relatively calm, even though almost none of them really support Trump. But I saw a protest on Time Square, with people marching on the streets, shouting ‘Not my president!’, and holding up signs of protest. My personal favourite was one that said ‘This P*ssy grabs back!’ right in front of the Trump Tower on 5th Avenue. And while I was eating a burger on Broadway, a girl handed me this note…

protestLaura

Visiting New York was an amazing, surreal experience. One thing was always present on the trip – the US elections. When I heard the news, I was shocked and also tense about what visiting New York after such an election would be like. When we were eating breakfast, the election and its consequences were all over the TV screens. As we walked out of a shopping mall, the only thing we heard was countless people yelling NOT MY PRESIDENT’. Walking past the Trump Tower meant walking past a huge amount of security. One homeless man wore a Trump mask and held a shield that said ‘Trump is our president. Need money to leave the country’.

Author & Pictures: Stefanie Frank

Happy Thanksgiving!

The origin of Thanksgiving

In the year 1620, a group of 102 men, women and children also known as the Pilgrims, wanted to find religious freedom and they sailed on the Mayflower to a shore in America called Plymouth, Massachusetts. They arrived in America on December 11, 1620. The first winter was very harsh and 55 of the 102 Pilgrims died of hunger or sickness. Thankfully, in the following year some friendly Indians called Wampanoag helped them by teaching them how to grow corn, how to harvest berries, and where and how to hunt and fish. Because of this the next harvest was good and the Pilgrims had enough food to store for the next winter. In October, 1621 they celebrated the first Thanksgiving to thank God for helping them. In 1863, US President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day to be a national holiday. He proclaimed the last Thursday of November an official day of celebration.

Why Thanksgiving Day is my favorite Holiday

hamThe spirit of Thanksgiving has endured throughout the years and has made it one of the most important holidays in the USA.

Born to an American mom and a German dad, my life has been shaped a lot around American holidays and traditions and my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. To me it’s special time of the year with memorable moments, as different things are shared on this special day: preparations, typical smells of homemade dinner rolls and sweet pies spiced with cinnamon and cloves. I love the warm comfortable atmosphere, good conversations, family quality time and friends coming to visit and not to forget all the delicious food like roast turkey, baked ham, cranberries and sweet potatoes.

What did the chicken say on Thanksgiving Day?
What did the chicken say on Thanksgiving Day?
The chicken said: “hey!”,
I’m glad I’m not a turkey
I’m glad I’m not a turkey on “Thanksgiving Day“

Same procedure as every year

The turkey and ham are ordered a week before. Even though Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the last Thursday in November, my family celebrates Thanksgiving on a Saturday. It would not be possible during the week here in Germany. We prepare pumpkin and pecan pies the day before. The first thing to be done on Saturday is to pick up the turkey at the local poultry farmer, as it’s too big to fit in the fridge! The bird weighs 8-9 kg, as we’re always a big group getting together in the evening. The bird is prepared and stuffed with old-fashioned bread stuffing and put into the oven. One hour for each kilogram – makes nine in total. Only then can we begin with the cranberry sauce, glazed ham, mashed potatoes, rolls, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and the vegetable sticks.

What did the rabbit say on Thanksgiving Day?
What did the rabbit say on Thanksgiving Day?
The rabbit said: “hey!”,
I ‘m glad I’m not a turkey
I ‘m glad I’m not a turkey on “Thanksgiving Day“

Getting ready for the feast

TurkeySlowly but surely the house fills; family first, to help with cleaning up and laying the table and then the friends arrive around five o’clock. Everybody mingles. The whole house smells amazing. We’re all starving since we haven’t eaten much during the day in order to have enough space in our stomachs for the feast. Finally we gather around the beautifully laid-out dinner table and say grace.

The tension increases when the star of the evening is taken out of the oven. How did it turn out? Is the meat juicy, tender and the skin crisp? This delicious smell of cooked turkey adds to the other aromas in the air: scents of stuffing with celery and sage, toasted marshmallows and candied sweet potatoes, roasted sizzling ham and red wine.  My brother-in-law cuts the turkey. When everybody has filled their plates we finally start.

Yummy!

What did the turkey say on Thanksgiving Day?
What did the turkey say on Thanksgiving Day?
The turkey said „hey!”,
It’s tough to be a turkey
It’s tough to be a turkey on “Thanksgiving Day.” (Carolyn Graham, Holiday Jazz Chants)

Time for dessert

cakeHaving eaten far too much, we start emptying the table, put the leftovers in containers to go, and pick off the last pieces of the turkey meat for turkey sandwiches the next day. Before we get ready for the sweet finale, we retell the story of the first Thanksgiving or we take a moment and write down what we are thankful for. Then it is time to enjoy the pies.

Author & Pictures: Elisabeth Stützel