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Popular Culture, History, and Current Events

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?

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Aretha Franklin: Freedom, Respect, and the Moral Universe

By Christine Jones

Powerful and proud, Aretha Franklin’s music championed the ideas of freedom and dignity, making her voice an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States with songs like “Respect” (1967) and “Think” (1968). When I hear the word “freedom” sung repeatedly in the chorus of “Think,” I’m reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, where he etched the words “Free At Last” into the vocabulary of the Civil Rights Movement. The song, “Respect”, unwaveringly and unapologetically demands just that and translates effortlessly into a voice for the feminist movement of the time. I was a child in that era, born in 1960, and the messages expressed by voices like Aretha Franklin’s have left an indelible imprint on me and many in my generation. Those voices made me feel that, as Martin Luther King put it, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” They made me feel that the United States was a place of social progress despite its struggles.

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National Comedy Center – It’s on THE Map!

By Sabrina Völz

When I started out as a teaching assistant at Syracuse University at the ripe old age of twenty, I instinctively knew I should get to know my students better. The obvious way to do that was to make small talk before or after class. My questions were nothing too personal or special, but the answers to one question puzzled me. “Well, what are you doing this weekend?” The responses varied, but they all had something in common: “Going to THE basketball game,” “Going to THE lake,” “Going to THE City” Okay. The first two were obvious. Basketball meant Syracuse University’s finest. THE lake meant Onondaga Lake, after all it was the closest one. But THE city? As if there is no other. Where, for crying out loud, is THE city? “Going to the City?” I asked meekly. “Yes, going to the City. You know, THE City.”

I felt like I was in the middle of a Laurel and Hardy routine. No, I really didn’t know. So I had to muster up a large dose of courage. After all, some of the students were actually older than me, and I, the new T.A. and graduate student from Iowa, obviously didn’t want to look stupid. After an excruciatingly long minute of silence passed, I finally spit out my question. Trying to keep a straight face, my student responded in slow motion, over enunciating his words: “New York City.”

Right then and there, I learned an important lesson: For most New Yorkers, there was, is, and never will be another city besides the Big Apple. Well, at least until now. Move over N.Y.C! Jamestown, N.Y., is on THE map. So what does Jamestown, a city with a population of roughly 30,000, have that THE City doesn’t? It has THE National Comedy Center.

photo credit: Steve Neilan

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Outhouse Races, Chocolate-Covered Deep Fried Cheesecake, and the Butter What? Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair

By Sabrina Völz

Credit “Iowa State Fair – Day 2” by Phil Roeder

When tourists from all over the world plan their vacations to the United States, they often stick to tried and true places to visit: National parks, Disney attractions, beaches, monuments, outlet malls, and museums. While they certainly are worthy places to visit, they won’t bring visitors closer to the people, contemporary culture, and everyday life in America like a good ole state fair. As an Iowan, I may be somewhat biased, but I wholeheartedly agree: “Nothing Compares to the Iowa State Fair” (this year’s motto).

Although the Iowa State Fair is not the oldest – that honor goes to the New York State Fair first held in Syracuse in 1841 – it is one of the best state fairs in the nation and places in the top 10 of most rankings. The Iowa State Fair, located right in the middle of the heartland, has been in operation continually since 1854 except for a time during WWII. The first visitors travelled by covered wagon to the largely agricultural showcase held in Fairfield which included spectacular exhibits and entertainment, such as “female equestrianism” otherwise known as female horseback riding. The Fair is five years older than the state, which became the 29th state in the Union on December 28, 1846. Iowans like to point out that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, State Fair (1933), was inspired by their fair. Today, it draws over 1.1 million visitors from all over the world to its permanent fairgrounds in Des Moines each year. So now that you know the basic facts, let the fun begin.

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