When Christmas is here, so are the Christmas lights. On the tree, on the houses and even on people, Christmas lights have become the cornerstone to any holiday celebration. For over a century, people have embraced them, cursed at them if things go awry, competed with neighbors for the best lighting and lastly (but most importantly), taken pride in their work of making things twinkle and flash.
Many of us don’t know much about the history of Christmas lighting, despite having materials being written about them. We do know that the invention of electrical Christmas lights came right after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Afterwards, the rest was history.
I’ve compiled a quiz on the history of Christmas lighting in the US and beyond, with the goal of challenging you all to guess at the answers and learn about how the Christmas lights have evolved into something where we cannot live without them, especially at Christmas time.
So switch on the bubble lights and set to work on these questions. Good luck and the answers will come before the end of the holiday season! 🙂
I would like to start this Holiday Tribute with a quote about friendship which one should keep in mind: “Friends are there when you least expect it.” That means if you are in dire straits and others turn your back, there will be one or a small set of friends, some whom you haven’t seen in years, who will be right there to help you through the hardest of times.
I would like to share this story to one unknown friend out there, who went the extra mile to save the life of another person in the most dire need. And what is special about this story is that the person who helped him lives in Germany. The person, whose life was saved, lives in the US in the State of Minnesota. Specifically, Fairmont, Minnesota, which is located 50 miles west of the nearest city of Albert Lea in the south-central part of the state.
David Weringa works in the restaurant industry and has for many years. A 1991 graduate of Granada-Huntley-East Chain High School, which is east of Fairmont, David used to be a manager of Brickhouse Pizza in Winnebago before moving to Jackson to take a more rewarding job at Pillar’s Restaurant and Grill (which is now known as Bucksnort’s). Jackson is located 30 miles west of Fairmont. He is a friend of a close friend of mine, Tim Anderson, who also lives in Jackson. He and I were members of a barbershop quartet while in high school, but graduated one year before I did. (I am a 96er). He and David got to know each other while working at Pillar’s in Jackson and became great friends after that. While Tim was working as a bartender, waiter and assistant manager, David was working as the kitchen manager at the restaurant when he suddenly felt severe pain in his legs in the summer and fall of 2016. After several visits to five different hospitals, including the emergency room, combined with several tests, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on November 30th, 2016. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the lymphoid line of blood cells characterized by the development of large numbers of immature lymphocytes. Symptoms may include feeling tired, pale skin color, fever, easy bleeding or bruising, enlarged lymph nodes, or bone pain. As an acute leukemia, ALL progresses rapidly and is typically fatal within weeks or months, if left untreated. As many as 876,000 people were affected by ALL in 2015; of which, 111,000 of them died from it. ALL affects mostly children between the ages of two and five, as they account for 50% of all cases. Yet a small number of adults have been infected with it as well.
People like David.
After the diagnosis, David was sent to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he started chemotherapy. Consisting of eight cycles (1 week in the hospital and two weeks at home), he continued undergoing therapy until 4th of May, 2017. It was not easy for him as he lost 40 pounds in the process, plus he was unable to continue performing his duties at the restaurant he was working; as a consequence, he was forced to resign for health reasons. After the chemotherapy was completed, David was put on maintenance chemo, where doctors could check the progress of the cancer. It was at that point where bone marrow biopsy revealed that the cancer was coming back. Faced with a life and death situation, the only hope left for him was a bone marrow transplant.
David was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, one of the world’s leading hospitals when it comes to treatments for very rare diseases, combined with state-of-the-art medical research and technology. There, he underwent another form of chemotherapy called Blinotumomab, which targets the cancer cells. After 28 days, the cancer went into remission, yet the hardest battle was yet to come, and it had to do with the bone marrow.
In November 2017, David returned to the Mayo after having spent much of his time at home, where he received the best news ever: doctors had found a bone marrow match on the donor list! 😀 The person who had donated the marrow was a 27-year old person who was living in Germany at the time of the transplant. There was no further information beyond that, nor was it possible to contact the donor for a year after the transplant, and afterwards, only that person would be allowed to contact David and others. The bone marrow cells from the German were delivered to Rochester on 29 November, 2017 and transplanted into David one day later, which coincided with the one-year anniversary of his diagnosis.
While the bone marrow transplant was a success, David was not out of the woods just yet. 100 days after the transplant, a biopsy in March 2018 revealed that the cancer cells were back and the bone marrow cells were not ready to fight these cells off. As a consequence, David underwent a new targeted chemo, called Inotuzamab, which was supposed to help the new cells take on and defeat the cancer cells, but had very nasty side-effects- namely high fever, rapid heartbeat, tiredness, infections, and the decrease in number of platelets plus other symptoms. In some cases, it could cause liver failure, which is potentially fatal. In David’s case, he needed transfusions of platelets as the numbers were dreadfully low. The average number of transfusions per week, according to his account, ranged between two and seven times. These platelets serve to clot up the flow of blood in areas where a cut or a bruise happened, in order to stop the bleeding instantly. Persons with a low platelet count can experience prolonged bleeding for up to hours on end. As an example, a person with a nosebleed would need five hours or more to stop the bleeding if the count is too low. Normally it is usually between five and ten minutes if the platelet count is normal.
Finally, in June of this year, after being at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for over a half a year, David was finally able to go home. He has become healthier and stronger than he was when he entered the clinic prior to the transplant, and his cancer has since been in remission. In the interview, he mentioned that his cancer had been in remission for a total of six times during this ordeal, yet, since having left the clinic, the biopsies he has undergone have revealed that the cancer has not come back. For him it was a victory that could not have been achieved if it hadn’t been for that donor in Germany, who took the time to donate a marrow to save another life, namely his.
Donating organs, blood and the like have not been well received in Germany within the past five years. According to the German Organ Transplantation Foundation (DSO), only 797 organ donations were reported in 2017, making it 9.7 persons per 1 million. This is the lowest number since 2017, and Germany is towards the bottom in European standards, with Spain leading the pack with 46.9 donors per one million. Factors include several scandals and the lack of interest in donating even blood have played a key role in the decline, despite increases in numbers in the states of Bavaria, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, according to local.de. Proposals to have organ donations be obligatory after a person’s passing unless noted by the person himself have been rejected soundly because of privacy reasons, yet there are several advantages of donating organs, blood and the like, especially if one is willing to allow for the transplant in order to save the life of another. Donor cards exist in Germany, where a person can fill out his personal data and submit it to a donor fund, granting them permission to remove the organs and like once the person passes on. This one is quite useful, if a person is like yours truly and believes that even if the person dies, the organs can still be used in someone else, as long as they are useful and working. Therefore, inspite of the scandals and lack of interest, one should have a look at the option of donating carefully and all the benefits that exist.
David still lives in Fairmont. A lot of things are looking up for him ever since the transplant. He’s about to take on a job at Ambiance Tap House and Grill in town as soon as he’s ready. With the cancer in remission for a half a year at least and his health becoming better, he’s ready to take that step in returning to the job that he loves doing, which is working in a restaurant. It has been well over a year since the donor provided him with that bone marrow that saved his life, and David has been very thankful for that. While the year clause has long since expired, the donor has yet to contact David to see how he is doing. For there has not been any contact, it is the wish of David to send the word of thanks to that donor, for taking the time needed to donate the marrow and save his life. That is even if that donor still wishes to remain annonymous.
And with that, I would like to end this story with a small token in German: “Vielen Dank, dass Sie diese Mühe gegeben haben, um das Leben eines Menschen wie David retten zu können. Es war das beste Geschenk, das Sie ihm gegeben haben. Dank Ihnen, kann er sein Leben weitermachen und mit vielen Freuden.” The best present comes when the person least expects it. ❤ 🙂
Special Thanks to David Weringa for providing the details to this long story and wishing him all the best.
Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It’s a special day where people gather to reflect on the year and appreciate what they have and have achieved. While the holiday is celebrated in other countries, such as Canada, Germany and other European countries, they take place earlier and have their own customs that are different to what Americans are accustomed to. Aside from having the turkey and stuffing, what else is typical of this holiday?
To find out, I’ve compiled a Guessing Quiz for you to try and test your knowledge. It’s multiple choice but only one answer is possible. Good for just about any place. Let’s start with the first question:
1. What is so special about Thanksgiving?
a. It marks the anniversary of the ratification of the US Constitution in 1787
b. It’s a day of giving thanks
c. It’s the last day before the fasting period starts.
2. When did the first Pilgrims arrive?
3. Where did the first Pilgrims originate from?
4. Where did the Pilgrims land?
c. New York
5. Who led the expedition and later became the mayor of the first settlement?
a. William Bradford
b. Giovanni de Verrazano
c. Hernando Cortes
d. Francisco Coronado
6. Which Indian chief helped the settlers establish their foothold on their community and later helped commemorate the Thanksgiving celebration?
b. Dances with Wolves
c. Crazy Horse
d. Sitting Bull
7. When was Thanksgiving permanently declared a national holiday?
8. Which US President proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday?
a. Theodore Roosevelt
b. Abraham Lincoln
c. William McKinley
d. Andrew Johnson
9. Which of the foods served is NOT typical of Thanksgiving? Mark only one.
b. Mashed Potatoes
c. Sweet Potatoes
d. Cranberry sauce
e. Pumpkin Pancakes
f. Pumpkin Pie
10. What sport is the most popular to watch on Thanksgiving?
c. American Football
d. Professional Wrestling
e. Ice Hockey
As a bonus, I’ve included a quiz on American food in order to determine what you can find in the States. And while some of them can be found in Europe, it’s not as popular as when you find along the store shelves. Good luck in this version:
What is a Smorgasbord?
An “all-you-can-eat restaurant
A Norwegian sandwich
Food that is sold at a convenient store
What is a potluck dinner?
A meal that is cooked in a big pot
Whoever is lucky gets to eat first
An event where everyone can bring some food and drink to share with others
What is egg nog?
Another word for pancake
A drink consisting of eggs, milk/cream, sugar, spices and sometimes alcohol (mainly rum)
A sweet bread with eight eggs.
Egg nog translated into German would be similar to which drink?
What does a yam refer to?
People enjoying food
Jell-O in America is a special pudding. What is it, exactly?
Wiggle-Pudding (Wackelpudding in D)
What ingredient does NOT go into chili con carne?
Which main dish is universally served for the holidays, regardless of which one?
Root beer is referred to which type of drink?
Light beer with 10% alcohol
A sweet drink flavored with roots and different spices
Smores is what kind of desert?
Ice cream shake
Sandwich with a melted marshmallow and chocolate on a graham cracker
Oreo sandwich with ice cream.
The Flensburg Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful start into the holiday season!
Author’s note: The graphic above is courtesy of Tracy Nelson, who was famous for her role at Sister Steve in the Father Dowling Mysteries
Answers to Part 1:
b, 2. c, 3. d, 4. b, 5. a, 6. a, 7. a, 8. b, 9. e, 10. b
Answers to Part 2:
a, 2. c, 3. b, 4. c, 5. c, 6. b, 7. c, 8. b, 9. c, 10. c
In America, we have two different types of memorial days- Memorial Day itself, which honors those who passed on, and Veteran’s Day, which honors and also memorializes those who fought in all the wars that the US has been involved in to date. The first one takes place on the last Monday of every May and is considered a statutory non-working holiday. There, flowers are lain on the graves of those lost. Parades honoring the fallen and church services are held on that day. Veteran’s Day was introduced over 100 years ago as part of the Treaty of Armistice, thus declaring World War I officially over on the 11th of November, 1918 at the 11th minute of the 11th hour. Governmental offices and most businesses and schools are closed on that day, pending on the individual state’s guidelines, and the holiday is celebrated in many ways- be it parades or other ceremonies, public addresses or other civil gatherings.
In Germany we have one holiday that has the equivalence to Memorial Day but has, as one person had put it in an interview, become a long-forgotten holiday. Buß und Bett Tag, known as the Day of Repentance and Prayer if translated into English, was first introduced by the Kingdom of Prussia in 1878 and got its origins from the days after Martin Luther’s Reformation in 1532 as Emperor Charles V proclaimed, at the behest of the Protestants, to commemorate the Ottoman conquest of the Holy Roman Empire in 1354. When the Prussian Empire succumbed to the German Empire in 1871, the day was later adopted in all of the newly-formed German states, where the Day of Prayer was to take place either 11 days before the first Advent and/or before the 23rd of November- as originally declared during Prussia’s existence. That day was abolished in 1934 by Hitler and was only partially lifted in the 1960s, where only the western half celebrated it and the eastern half was banned from celebrating it by the SED_dictatorship.
It was not until 1990 when a newly-reunified Germany reintroduced it to all the states, but only temporarily. In 1994, the government under Kohl introduced a bill to reform the health care and social security system, requiring more payments into the system and people to work more hours. As part of the package, all the federal states voted to add a day onto the working schedule, hence the elimination of Buß und Bett Tag.
All of them except Saxony. In Bavaria, it is still a working holiday but the children have the day off from school.
While Buß und Bett Tag is practiced today in those two states, there are many theories as to how people still interpret this day. It is a non-working holiday in Saxony, going by the proclamation by the book, yet the residents are required to pay 13-15% more into the health care fund for that day. When asked what people do on that day, the response: We travel to the Czech Republic, or to the neighboring states because there are businesse open there.
Has Buß und Bett Tag become the long-forgotten holiday, as forgotten as the Sunday ritual of going to church? I decided to find out how it is celebrated to this day. Being a member of a church choir for the day, I earned a free pass to see how the holiday is observed, and this is what I found:
It turns out, Buß und Bett Tag is not only the time to remember the people who died, but it is a time of reflection of our own past actions and what we can do to right the wrongs done onto others. Pending on which church a person attends in Saxony, the holiday brings people together for over an hour of church service. Yet in other cases, concerts are added to the mix, using songs that honor the people and their relationship with the Lord. At a church in Zwickau, the congregation was treated to a short skit in connection with the Lost Son (the book of Luke 15:11-32) but in modern form, followed by a sermon on how forgiveness and reconciliation far outweigh the sins committed onto others. Lessons on how to treat others well despite their backgrounds reinforce the meaning of the holiday in terms of reflection. At a church in Glauchau, a choir concert, featuring two choirs and an orchestra, rocking to the tunes of John Rutter and Antonin Dvorak honor the dead and those retiring from the years of hard work, thus stressing the meaning of the holiday in terms of honor.
Still, the number of people participating in these events are relatively small, running parallel to the problems America is currently facing with a decline in church attendance and the forced consolidation of two or more congretations. And while the majority of church-goers in the US are over 50 years of age, in Germany, there seems to be an even proportion of people paying respects to the Lord, including families (especially with children), friends and strangers. From the view of the majoirty, when looking at the scene on this day, one can see children playing, families catching up on housework and even small businesses doing overtime to set up the huts for the Christmas market, which starts on the following weekend in the first Advent. Despite this trend, it does not mean one needs to follow the suit of the other states by “getting with the program” and abolishing this sacred day. Granted unions have been striving to push for the abolition of extra pay into the health care and pensioner’s fund citing its irrelevance to today’s standards.
Judging from my observations, having a day like Buß und Bett Tag could be a blessing even if it is considered the official day of rest. Most countries in the western hemisphere have a special day commemorating the living and the dead, honoring them for their work. If each state in Germany was to follow what is being followed in Saxony, it would serve as an opportunity for all people to honor and pay tribute to those who deserved it, pray for those who are in need (and find ways to help them), and repent for the sins done onto others (and again find ways to forgive them). One doesn’t need to have a fancy ceremony, like parades and the like, as seen in Memorial Day celebrations, but simply church services, charitable events and concerts with the themes of reflection and tribute, as seen here in Saxony. Anything more than that would be considered overkill.
Many of us seem to forget the real meaning of family and friendship, respecting and honoring some and helping others because we are all consumed by work, individual gratification and materialistic items. In fact some holidays, like Christmas and Easter have become so materialistic and sometimes ignored, that their underlying meanings have become very irrelevant. When we think of only Father Christmas/ Santa Claus/ Der Weihnachtsmann and the presents we receive from them, then it is time to reexamine ourselves and look at the real meaning of these holidays, which means the life of Christ, and the meaning of the people in our lives whom we care about.
Therefore, we should keep this day of remembrance and reflection, so that we can remember the people who made a difference in our lives, reflect on what we have done and what we should do differently and especially, reconsider some things in our lives because of the potential for failure. Buß und Bett Tag has a much thorougher meaning than what has been perceived. It’s not just a day of rest, but a day to look back and look forward. While Germany has many holidays, these holidays are meant for a time of rest, reflection, reunions and gatherings and refueling ourselves for work. By eliminating even one day for the purpose of work, we take away more than that day to spend it for ourselves and our families and friends. Therefore, when having another day like this one in the future, think about what we have and what we have done (or should be doing). A little time of reflection and remembrance will help a person go an even longer way.
The biblical origin of this day stems from the book of Jonah, which states the following:
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. 5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? 10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not
In light of the Mid-term Elections in the United States, which takes place on November 6th, I’ve produced a video about the state of the US from an American expatriate’s point of view, asking the American people both here and abroad: Is this the America we want?
There are two options: One can sit out and allow for events to happen, or one can take the extra hour and vote. If you don’t like what you see in the US and its standing in the world, then my only advice is this……
In a democracy, there is no such thing as conformity. We can unite but have different opinions and ideas on how to solve problems, as long as we respect them, and especially as long as they are appropriate in today’s situation. Democracy ends when we are forced to conform to the practices that are considered harmful to oneself and those affected. America has never been the democratic state that it was 50 years ago, nor has it never been what it should be- a country where everyone, regardless of race, religion, socio-economic background or even now in Trump’s America, political affiliation, has the right to vote, express themselves freely, and do something for the good of others. It has become a state of conformity, where if you do not share the opinions and feelings of the other side, even though you do not like them, then you are looked down upon, defamed and shamed in front of others.
Growing up in a poor family in rural Minnesota, the idea of a “conformed state” had more to do with the type of clothes a person wore, the type of car a person was driving (if the person owned a car at that time), who you were dating, whether or not you were a macho-man, what types of jobs your parents had and the religious denomination you you were associated with, if you were attending church regularly on a Sunday. America still lives in that conformed state today, despite attempts to include everyone based on race, religion, socio-economic background, opinions on the current events of today, sexual preferences and even preference for certain foods- veering away from meat products and embracing vegetarianism and veganism. But given the situation we have been working with since Trump won the elections in November 2016, we are rolling back the prejudices against these minorities and engaging in McCarthyism 2.0, namely scrutinizing the people based on political affiliation. Gone away are the political discussions that were once constructive and meaningful, we are engaging in “throat-cutting” scare-tactics, where any opinion you say about the problems in the US can be used against you with physical force, social networking force (including the use of facebook and twitter), or through naming and shaming in public.
Yet there is a new weapon that is being used in American society that my wife, daughter and I noticed during our road trip through the Midwest this past summer, and that is “Info-Prying.” Info-prying is the process of interrogating foreigners, especially those living in Europe, as to finding out what exactly is going on outside the US, in hopes to extract information and start a political discussion. “Info-Prying” is being done by three different parties: 1. Those who felt misinterpreted by the media because of Trump’s constant attacks and want to know the real truth, 2. Those who want a confirmation of Trump’s claims and want to pick a fight to support their claims, and 3. Those who really want a conversation about the problems facing America under Trump. Sadly, based on the observations, the majority of Americans belong to either points 1 and 2, and there is a dwindling minority belonging to number 3.
Why is that, exactly? Think about that for a minute.
One of the interpretations that can be quickly explained is Trump’s conditioning of the American public into believing everything he says. However, Trump’s supporters still belong in the minority. Since having taken office in January 2017, an average of only 42% of Americans support the president and his rather ubiquitous policies, whereas 56% of the public would like to see him gone sooner than later. Still when asking around the neighborhood to find out whether or not they are safe living in peaceful co-existence between a Democrat and a Republican, most will agree that the answer to that question is “no.” Reason: because whenever a person states an opinion with a Trump supporter, it is met with violence. And while it is easy to “unfriend” or delete someone from a facebook network, meeting that person with physical violence and with guns can have an everlasting effect on the person stating the facts. Families have fallen apart because of the effects of Trump’s rhetoric in pitting family members against each other. Best friends have because strangers because of their own political opinions. And one out of ten Americans have admitted leaving the country should Trump be re-elected; just as many as the rate of American expatriates, including myself, who are considering ditching their American passports, once and for all.
With all these facts in mind, we had to be very careful as to what we said to those who tried to “info-pry” us about the problems in Europe, for relations between the US and Europe have been frigid since Trump took over in January 2017. The information on the invasion of immigrants in Europe and how they were committing vast amounts of crime, as broadcasted by Breitbart and other right-wing networks were highly over-exaggerated. Despite the infamous attacks during the New Year’s celebrations in Cologne and Hamburg in 2015, combined with the events in Chemnitz this year and trucks being used as weapons, these incidents were only arbitrary and despite measures to curb this type of violence, which includes deporting those with a criminal record and having barriers set up to keep vehicles out of pedestrian areas, the crime rate in Europe is lower among immigrants than the natives who were born there. In fact, most of the crimes committed by the immigrants have been petty- whether they are burglaries, theft or fake IDs. We do have incidents involving those who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, but they are fewer than what was reported by Breitbart . So in other words, Europe is not as black as what the media says. It is going far right, which is a scary trend, but that is because of home-grown fears that the immigrants will dominate the scene with their own language instead of adopting the German language, let alone the lingua franca language in English and French. Politicians from the Social Democrats, to the Greens and to even the Conservative Christian Democrats know the problems and are working to integrate those who want to live in Europe, even if it’s for a while. This integration comes with the lesson of understanding cultures and social backgrounds, which Europe has long profited from, learning the lessons from World War II and the Cold War.
So to sum up the answer of whether Europe is going to be run over, becoming an Islamic State, as some of the info-pryers had tried to get out of us, the answer is “no.” We are doing fine. We know the problems that are facing Europe with the immigrants, but that is something we can handle.
The problem is how Americans are doing at home. That is what nine out of ten Europeans are concerned about. How can we deal with “info-pryers” who are modestly wanting answers but most of them want to pick a fight and support Trump?
Americans have a lot of issues to deal with at home, all of them are home-grown and growing every year. Yet they seem to ignore thees problems at home and try to find problems outside the country, where they are either non-existent or those where they can be solved by those who know the problem and don’t need any American advice.
Therefore, our only answers that came out to those who tried to pry open the can full of issues in Europe: “We’re doing fine. It is you guys we are worried about. We’re worried that your own problems are mounting and in the end, cannot be handled anymore.” While one person from the group, who asked about Europe’s problems, eventually agreed to the fact that America does have a big problem- bigger than Europe’s own set, others turned a blind eye saying America is great, thanks to Trump. But little do they realize, America’s Roman Empire is crumbling every year, bit by bit, and if America is to be great again, it needs to conform to the changing trends outside its realm in order for any generation to benefit what American stood for, over a half century ago, which is democracy, openness, pursuit of happiness, and embracing change, but keeping to these principles, which has been accepted by Europe and other countries.
The America we know right now isn’t that America. It’s too materialistic, too fanatical and too invasive. Scale back and take care of yourselves first, because we are doing fine. When your house is in order and the country is with the program regarding even the three most important items facing our planet: the environment, human rights and modernizing the infrastructure, we can talk. Right now, info-pryers don’t have a place in our lives and the lives of other people we know personally. Thank you.