Christmas Traditions in the U.S.

This year, the team of the American Studies Blog would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas by testing your knowledge of Christmas trivia. We hope that you will pass ‘and’ pass on our infotainment to your family, friends, colleagues, and students. It is interesting to ponder how much other cultures have enriched American Christmas traditions. Without further ado, here’s our Christmas quiz for you:

  1. Which one of America’s most beloved Christmas poems by Clement Moore appeared on Dec. 23, 1823?
  2. Which group of German immigrants introduced the Christmas tree to the United States in the 1800s?
  3. Which German American illustrator heavily influenced Santa’s popular image?
  4. Which two other holidays are celebrated in the United States during the month of December?
  5. Can you name at least 3 religious and 3 non-religious figures, icons, or symbols of the holiday?

Read more »

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

By Sabrina Völz

As someone who regularly teaches creative non-fiction to university students, I’m always looking for new material. Earlier this year, I came across a highly acclaimed memoir that lasted thirty-one weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Educated: A Memoir is written by Tara Westover, the youngest daughter of Mormon fundamentalists and survivalists from a remote area of Idaho, near Buck’s Peak.

Westover’s father repeatedly preached that the end of the world was imminent and that the right to exist without interference from the government took precedence over all other personal needs. Self-sufficiency from his point of view meant life without any formal education and health care. As a child, Westover was taught to obey, not to question. And when tragedy struck – which was often brought upon by the patriarch’s poor judgment – father still knew best. Family life was marked by dangerous, hard physical labor, poverty as well as the constant stockpiling of supplies, be they canned food or survivalist gear. Paranoid that the government would somehow intervene, the family was prepared to defend their way of life by any means necessary.

Keenly aware of her surroundings, Westover noticed – already at the age of seven – that her family was different. Before entering college at the age of seventeen, the young woman had never set foot in a public school. Her education was largely limited to the Book of Mormon and Mormon doctrine. One day, when Westover mentioned that she wanted to go to school, her father quickly rebuked her: “In this family […] we obey the commandments of the Lord.” And that was that. So how was Tara Westover able to gain university admission and later earn her doctorate? Let’s just say her path was filled with numerous obstacles, the greatest of which was her own guilt and shame. Read more »

Music to Last a Lifetime: The Reissue of The White Album

By Markus Ziener

It was Easter Sunday 1969 and I was a boy. My parents had staged an Easter egg hunt in our garden, and I was searching beneath a cherry tree, inside the dog’s kennel, and eventually also in our tiny grove of lilacs. And that’s where I found it, covered with branches and leaves: a single record in a black sleeve. The center of the sleeve read “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” by The Beatles. I rushed into the house, turned the record player to 45 rpm, and put it on. I must have listened to the song a dozen times. Then, finally, I turned the record over and tried the B-side. That was the moment they had me. I fell in love with The Beatles.

Read more »

Two Sides to Every Story – The Affair (2014-19)

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Have you ever talked about a past event with someone who was involved in it and came to a point where you and that someone didn’t quite agree on how, where, or even if something had happened? This can be amusing or awful, but it surely makes us ponder about truth, perception, and the relationship between the two.

And so does Showtime’s TV drama series, The Affair.

The pilot episode starts in medias res with a police detective (Victor Williams) interrogating our male protagonist, the teacher and semi-successful novelist, Noah Solloway (Dominic West). The detective wants to know “how this whole mess got started.” This is when it dawns on us that what we’re seeing isn’t what’s happening right now. It’s merely Noah’s recollection of what has happened. Through Noah’s lens of memory, we learn that at the beginning of the story he’s happily married (with 4 kids) to Helen (Maura Tierney), his high school sweetheart. During their summer vacation in Montauk (Long Island, New York), their lives change radically when Noah meets Alison Lockhart (Ruth Wilson). It is from her perspective that the second half of the episode is told. Alison is a waitress and unhappily married to Cole (Joshua Jackson). They’ve never really seemed to get over the death of their toddler who’d died in an accident not long ago. As soon as she and Noah are on the screen together, we realize how this whole mess got started.

Read more »

Thoughts of a Digital Alternative

By Maria Moss

Photo credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr

Believe it or not, I’ve never owned a cell phone. This sentence coming from a toddler might not be that astounding, but coming from a middle-aged woman who tremendously enjoys the company of friends, colleagues, and students, is rather surprising. Why wouldn’t anyone – with the exception of hermits and strict techno refuseniks – want to enjoy being and staying in touch all the time. Well, maybe it is exactly the “all the time” that I find disturbing. Of course, people tell me that you could just turn your phone off, that you don’t need to be online continuously, that it’s o.k. to be unavailable at times. And apparently, I’m not alone.
Read more »