The Heart-Shaped Holiday

February 12, 2018


Everyone is seeing red. Valentine’s Day is here. The day for lovers, for family, for friends, for co-workers – the official day when we show the important people in our lives how much they mean to us. The day is celebrated with cards, flowers and chocolates – and lots of them. Many of us grew up with the annual tradition of Valentine’s Day, we remember our parents and grandparents reminiscing about it.


But how long has this special day actually been around? The answer is quite simple: Forever. The beginnings of this romantic day are anything but romantic – they are rather mysterious. Christian and Pagan rituals evolved into the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated today.
Many legends surround the saint named Valentine. One story tells about Valentine, a Roman priest, who secretly married young lovers until he was found out and thrown into prison. There, he fell in love with a young woman who visited him on a regular basis. Shortly before his death he penned her a letter and signed it ‘from your Valentine,’ a phrase that is still associated with this special day. All the tales that speak of the beginnings of this tradition center around a romantic hero named Valentine.
The British Library in London has the oldest Valentine’s card on display – written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was held in the Tower of London. Americans started designing their own hand-made cards, beautifully decorated with ribbons and lace, as far back as 1700. In 1840 these cards were replaced by the first printed, mass-produced cards. About 150 million Valentine’s Day cards exchange hands every year, only the number of Christmas cards is higher; 85% are bought by women.
Many countries around the world celebrate the day with their own traditions. Denmark sees the exchange of pressed, white flowers called snowdrops. France, with a reputation for romance, had a rather unusual tradition. On February 14, men and women would fill up houses on opposite sides of a street. Then they would call out to each other and pair off that way. The women who were left behind later gathered for a huge bonfire where they burned pictures of the men who stood them up and insulted them greatly. Over the years, this event got so out of hand that the French government banned it altogether. In China women prepare elaborate offerings of fruit to Zhinu, a heavenly king’s daughter, in hopes of attracting a worthy husband.
How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day?

Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor



January 16, 2018

“What movement tried to end racial discrimination?” The Civil Rights Movement
“What did Martin Luther King, Jr. do?” Fought for civil rights

As a Citizenship Class instructor, I have the privilege of sharing about the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. every session. Before discussing the 1960s, we cover the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and the Emancipation Proclamation. The focus then jumps to World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II before moving to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. The history questions for the Naturalization Interview do not hide the long history of slavery in the United States. Students learn early in the session that slavery existed in the “thirteen original colonies.”

“What group of people was taken to America and sold as slaves?” People from Africa

To help students understand “racial discrimination” and what life was like in the United States for many African Americans following the Civil War and during the time of Dr. King, we often look at the infamous pictures of segregated water fountains and bathrooms. I tend to avoid the darker pictures of lynchings and angry mobs, not wanting to rouse any post-traumatic stress in our refugee and immigrant clients.

In reality, they “know” discrimination in a much deeper sense than me, their instructor. Many experienced racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination in their own countries. The Nepali-speaking refugees from Bhutan, the Kunama refugees from Eritrea, the Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar and many other minority groups that we serve at the Center for New Americans fled or were expelled from unbearable conditions.



(Photo courtesy of AND JUSTICE FOR ALL)


Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the lines above in 1963 from where he sat in a Birmingham jail following mass demonstrations of organized civil disobedience. Its truth rang loudly when it was first read, and continues to resonate reality today. I love my job and I love interacting with and learning more about my students, but their daily presence is also a stark reminder that gross injustices have occurred and continue to occur in many of their countries. I am grateful they now live in the United States without fearing for their lives. I am grateful for the rights guaranteed them and protecting them in the Bill of Rights and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but I wonder about their family and friends not here…those still in the refugee camps, those still in their native countries. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” My students remind me that we are all responsible for each other.

Written by Kadie Becker; Reposted by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor

New Year’s Traditions

January 2, 2018

Every year I find that my students share similar New Year’s traditions, but there are also unique traditions for each country.

The Ethiopian New Year is September 11, known as Enkutatash in Amharic or “Gift of Jewels.”  Traditionally this holiday commemorates the return of the Queen of Sheba from a visit to King Solomon.  It also occurs at the end of the rainy season when Ethiopia is flourishing and flowers are plentiful.   In the morning, after a church service, young girls go from door to door singing and bringing flowers, young boys paint pictures of saints and play soccer games, and adults enjoy the day with beer and camaraderie.  Incidentally the Ethiopian calendar is 8 years behind ours, so it is 2010 this year!

ethiopian new year meskel-flowers

Ethiopian flowers in bloom for the New Year

When doing some research I found that there are actually 9 different New Year’s days in Nepal, the official one is based off the Nepal Sambat calendar (which is 56.7 years ahead of our calendar, so we will be ringing in 2075 this year!)  This holiday is celebrated between April 11 and 15, announcing in the spring season.  The day is celebrated with picnics, parades, soccer and volleyball games, religious rites, and gifts and cards.  People take time to consider both the past and the future and make resolutions for the coming year (sounds familiar!).


Dancers celebrating one of the many New Years in Nepal

We of course cannot forget about the Chinese New Year.  Following the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the Chinese New Year starts the end of January or beginning of February and lasts 15 days.  Homes are thoroughly cleaned and decorated with red, old debts must be paid, gifts of money are exchanged, and it is common to light firecrackers.  Cleaning the home removes all bad luck, and allows the new luck to prosper.  This year Chinese New Year is February 16.


Chinese New Year Festivities

A little closer to home, Guatemalans celebrate with music, dance, colorful costumes and fireworks.  People gather at the center of town to celebrate together.  There are two essential dances that hail from Hispanic colonists, el Baile de Moros y Cristianos and la Quema de Toritos y Alas.  The first dance represents the defeat of the Moors by the Christian Spaniards.  The second combines both dance and fireworks when a man dressed as a bull parades through the town and fireworks shoot from his “wings,” lighting up his path.

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The Dance of the Moors and the Christians


The Burning of the Bulls and the Wings


Here’s wishing you a Happy New Year, no matter how you celebrate!

Written by Heather Glidewell, ESL Instructor

Joy to the World

December 19, 2017

And joy to the world it was – literally—as the Center for New Americans celebrated the holiday season with staff and students from four different continents on Thursday, December 14. Cultural and language barriers became insignificant as everyone sat down to taste each others’ culinary delights and share some intercultural dance moves. Even Santa couldn’t stay away!

christmas dancing 1      christmas-santa.jpg

Students spent the week learning about traditional American culture through songs, singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and performed during the World Festival Celebration.  Students also shared their traditional music and dances: Danto from Somalia, Cumbia and Bachata from Mexico, in addition to lots of Nepali dances.  And the food was bountiful.  Students, teachers, and volunteers alike brought time honored finger foods: Cheese and crackers from the United States, sambusa from Africa, pulcra from Bhutan,  and “famous roses” from Thailand.  It was a beautiful day to celebrate the end of 2017.

christmas-food.jpg  christmas food 3  christmas food 2

christmas food 4

christmas students 2

christmas dancing 2


All of us here at the Center for New Americans Wish You a Happy New Year! 

Halloween-like Traditions Around the World

October 30, 2017

Pumpkins on display (Photo from Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year.  The air is crisp, leaves are falling and the days are getting longer.  Soon kids (and all the kids-at-heart) will dress up and the air will be filled with shouts of “trick-or-treat!”  Still others will stay indoors watching scary movies, pretending not to be scared of the dark.  Yep, it’s Halloween.  But do many of you know how Halloween began?  While there are many influences on the modern celebration of Halloween, most agree that the basis for the holiday is a blend of Celtic and Christian traditions.  The practice of jack-o-lanterns comes from the Celts, as they would carve turnips into lanterns to help guide departed spirits.  Trick-or-treating began as Christian children would go door to door collecting bread in exchange for prayers for loved ones.  After looking into the history of Halloween, I wondered if other cultures had similar celebrations, so I asked my co-workers to tell me about some of their homeland traditions.

Hailing from Croatia, Lilly Jasarovic told me that recently more Croatians are celebrating the modern Halloween with costumes and trick or treating.  But she also told me of the festival Maškare which is celebrated right before Lent.  During this festival, people dress up in costumes and celebrate with big masquerade parties, parades and bonfires.


Bowl of Fritule, photo from wikipedia

Children are often given small doughnut-like pastries called fritule, as gifts by adults.

In Ethiopia, they celebrate the festival of Buhé (pronounced boo-hay).  Ahmed Abogn let me know that Buhe, sometimes refered to as Ethiopia’s Halloween, is celebrated in August near the end of the rainy season.  On the night of Buhe, young boys will go door to door singing and dancing, asking for small gifts, like bread or (nowadays) money.  Families will also light bonfires and gather around to celebrate.

Kaylan Dahal, a Bhutanese-Nepali caseworker, spoke about the traditions of Diwali.  The festival is a Hindu festival, also known as the Festival of Lights.  During this time families decorate their homes with flowers and it is a time to share food and blessings with each other.  During the festival, groups will go door to door singing songs or blessings and are rewarded with small gifts.  Kaylan tells me that in the refugee camp, you could visit nearly 100 homes because they were so close together.


A Nepalese temple lit up for Diwali. (Photo by Dhilung Kirat)

Caseworker Law Reh spoke of the Karenni Deeku festival.  Named for the leaf-wrapped sticky rice that is cooked during this time, the festival is held with large group dances around sacred poles.  Sometimes people will wear masks during the celebrations.  They will also go door to door sharing gifts with one another.  Families will also make sculptures (Law described them similar to scarecrows) that will be placed in front of homes to protect from evil spirits.  This festival can take a week to celebrate and is a time to look forward into the next year as fortunes can also be told during this time.

Learning about all the different ways and reasons my coworkers celebrate was really great!  I got to hear about their homes and traditions as well as share some tidbits about Halloween too.  If this kind of history interested you, I hope you can take some time to learn more about the different traditions in the world because, as this blog showed me, despite the many differences, we are more similar than we sometimes think.


Kristyne Walth, Volunteer Coordinator, LSS Center for New Americans

I believe…

September 20, 2017


I believe that LSS Center for New Americans is an integral part of the Sioux Falls community, strengthening families, providing much needed services, reaching above and beyond to help people. I believe hard work and determination goes a long way in changing lives, the community, and the world. I believe LSS gives people a chance when they had none. There is a certain satisfaction knowing that you have helped make your community a better place to be, have helped people live and thrive when they didn’t have that chance before.
I believe that people come here to be free, to live and love, to build a new life, a better life, and LSS helps them assimilate, helps them overcome language and cultural barriers, prepares them to find gainful employment and housing. LSS helps reunite families and keep families together.
I believe that we are privileged to provide many people with the chance to learn new things. For example, on Monday nights, we offer a technology class at the Center for New Americans. It is so exciting to help students succeed when they have never used a computer before. It is also exhilarating to teach a student who cannot read and write their own language how to read and write in English. These are the precious, empowering moments for our students that help them succeed in our community.
Some time ago, I had a student that told me, “I was afraid when I came to America, but maybe American culture is not bad, it is just different.” This comment has impacted my own thoughts and beliefs. My students’ cultures are not bad. They are just different. There is beauty to be found in each and every one of them.
I believe LSS Center for New Americans changes lives. Not only the lives of the refugees and immigrants they help, but the lives of all the employees and volunteers that work for the changes. Working at the Center for New Americans is challenging work but very rewarding. I believe that the final goals are definitely worth the effort!

Written by Heather Glidewell, LSS ESL Instructor



September? A holiday month? Really?

September 14, 2017

globe and flags

How many holidays are there in September? Well, that’s pretty easy. One of course – Labor Day. And that’s correct, but it also doesn’t end there. Just about every month has one or two major holidays and then many less known celebratory days, often too numerous to mention. And September is no exception. Let’s take a look.

September is the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, going from September 15 to October 15. Hispanic Heritage Month dates back to 1968 and highlights the independence of several Latin American countries – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile and Belize – as well as the contributions Spanish speaking individuals have made to the fabric of the United States.

Then there is Labor Day, also known as the unofficial end of summer. It became a federal holiday in 1984, honoring the American workers who – through strength, sweat and perseverance – have shaped this country into what it is today.

And then there is the plethora of other celebrations. A little something for everyone. The internet tells me that there are more than 650 holidays worldwide in September. Several religious holidays are spread throughout the month: the Muslim Eid-al-Adha, remembering that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Ishmail to God, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a day of repentance. The government is also well represented, with Citizenship and Constitution Days, Goldstar Mother’s Day and the Air Force’s birthday.

Acorn squash, cheese lovers pizza, salami, TV dinners and Chocolate Milk Shakes are among the many foods highlighted during the month of September. All these meals require a National Clean Up Day. Don’t forget your pets, video games and clean beds.

My personal favorite is definitely National Coffee Day, observed on September 29. There might be some free cups of coffee to be found on that day. I will certainly give it a try.


Written by Silke Hansen, LSS English Instructor

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