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Hollandy III

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Hollandy III

By: Sarah Aarssen

“It’s not all Holland, it’s not all Illinois, it’s just a little Holland-y”

This next little ditty about the Dutch culture is inspired by the national holiday that happens to be today, September 15th. It’s celebrated by young and old, rich and poor, thick and thin. It’s the most highly anticipated holiday of the year as a matter of fact. And that holiday is… my birthday! Alright, it’s not really a national holiday, but there is a huge difference in the way the Dutch and Americans celebrate turning a year older so I thought now would be a perfect time to share the traditions with you.

Today I will turn the ripe old age of 35 and if I were in the U.S. I´d probably go to work as usual, have dinner with friends or family and call it a day. In the Netherlands, if you´re turning 5, 25, 95 or anywhere in-between you´re expected to celebrate. It´s not just the milestones here that matter, it´s every year and, after all, why shouldn´t it be? You did live to see another year pass and sometimes just surviving is reason enough to throw a party.

I want to preface this story by saying my Dutch family is old school (and I love them very much). They still eat old school Dutch meals, which I’ll touch on in another Hollandy article. They still celebrate old school style. Some of the younger generation is getting away from the traditions that are “Circle Parties” and ” meat-boiled potato-over cooked veg”, and gaining inspiration from other cultures. My experiences in Dutch birthday bashes are purely… let’s call it… “traditional Dutch”. I know my family is not the only family still celebrating this way because when I mention to other expatriates that I am going to a Dutch birthday party the chatter about the customs immediately ensue. From the greeting, to the seating, to the food, there is always something interestingly Dutch to talk about.

I guess it’s best to start at the beginning, actually getting to the party. You don’t show up early. Not even if you have a tiny child whose nap schedule is interrupted by the timing of the party and it is your own parents throwing the bash. You can (and will be) turned away and asked to come back later if they’re not quite ready for you. Are you gasping at the thought of your mother answering the door and telling you “sorry, can you come back in half an hour, I’m still getting ready”? Yeah, I gasped the first time it happened to us too. This is not meant to anger you and it is not looked upon as rude. It’s simply the way it is. There are few surprise visits in the Netherlands and this includes showing up early to anything.

Once you’re at the party you’re faced with another peculiar tradition. When entering the party you kiss everybody three times (left cheek, right cheek, left cheek) and wish them “gefeliciteerd” or “congratulations”. You kiss the birthday girl, her husband, their cousins, their neighbors, those people you’ve never met before, you just kiss them all. When more people come in, they are meant to go around the room and kiss everybody in attendance as well. Why all the kissing and congratulations though? Why do I wish my mother in law’s neighbor “congratulations on your neighbor” on her birthday? The best explanation I’ve heard is that you’re simply saying “good for you for knowing the birthday girl one more year, well done!” Who am I to argue?

After all of that kissing you’re met with cake and coffee. There is no singing of “Lang zal je leven”, the Dutch “Happy Birthday” or blowing out candles or even traditional cutting of the cake with the birthday girl getting the first slice. You don’t wait and all eat the cake together either. There’s no cake display, no fancy design and not a lot of thought put into the cake at all (which as a Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, DC Cupcake loving American, I am more than disappointed!). You’re given cake as you walk in and find your seat. And there is not a scoop of ice cream to be found.

Cake and coffee in hand you walk into the real kicker, the real gossip of all Dutch parties, the real killer for many expats like me. You walk into “the Circle”. Don’t worry, there is nothing satanic about it. No tribal dances. Nothing really that interesting at all. “The Circle” is simply the way the room in every single Dutch party is set up. It’s a group of chairs surrounding the perimeter of the room in a circle. It seems harmless enough and the theory behind it is really quite good. In a circle nobody is “the head” or more important than anybody else (a-la, King Arthur’s Round Table, I suppose). You always want to pick a good seat in the circle because this is where you will spend the entire rest of the party. There is no mingling about. No musical chairs later. This is your seat. Like it. Admittedly it can be difficult to choose a good seat because not all of the guests have arrived and you’re not too sure where “Uncle Cigars Smoker” will plop himself down so it can be a bit of a crap shoot. All you can do is cross your fingers and sit.

I’ve heard these parties referred to by the non-Dutch in a multitude of ways, some of my favorites include “The Circle of Death” and “The Circle of Hell”. They’re not exactly looked forward to but it’s simply something you must endure for the sake of the family. Remember how I said I loved my Dutch family? Good. Just thought a gentle reminder would be nice there.

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Once the cake and coffee has been eaten then the party really…well actually not much else really happens. It’s a lot of visiting with one another and talking about the weather and vacations. This aspect isn’t unique to the Dutch but, occasionally, you may hear the same story repeated by Auntie So-an-So for the hundredth time, especially if there are several birthdays in a month. It’s where people’s characters really come out though. Or It could be all the booze.

You may have noticed I didn’t mention the snacks, food buffet or bowls of chips and dip. That was no omission, there isn’t any to be talked about. Going from a culture where food is a focus and where the host may plan for days to figure out what to serve to their party guests, to the way the Dutch go about it, was a shock to my system (and my glucose levels). Giving them some credit though, they don’t leave you to sit high and dry. The alcohol is offered in abundance and never is a guest left without drink. Ever.

Yes, the drinks are copious and ever flowing throughout the lifespan of the fest. Beer, wine, spirits… whatever your poison, the host will have it. After years of celebrating birthdays together the host generally knows what you drink and will do their best to have it on hand. As a non-drinker, I am never left without plenty of Cola Light (Diet Coke). I am only one of two people in our family who do not participate in the alcoholic beverages at my family gatherings. The “two” being Marco, my husband. He got the side-eye from a some people the first few parties that we went to when he politely declined a few brewskies with his family but now it’s just known and respected. The Dutch are very “live and let live” and I appreciate that about their culture.

Now of course they don’t leave you totally hungry! That would be rude and an exaggeration of what happens at a true Circle Party! About two or three drinks into the day a tray is passed filled with typical Dutch party “treats” otherwise known as cheese cubes and wursts or what Americans would refer to as braunschweiger, summer sausage and salami. There is also a little pot of mustard for dipping. The tray starts at one side of the circle and is passed from guest to guest. You take one item, dip it if necessary, and pass it on. That does not mean one cheese and one salami. It doesn’t mean one of each item. It means one. Do not grab two. Just save yourself the embarrassment and do not take two items! Once the tray reaches the beginning of the circle it is taken back into the kitchen to be refilled, ready for passing again… in about 30 minutes. All the while, merriment continues, drinks are filled and refilled and the party thunders on.

My Dutch family does offer crackers with a variety of spreads on them as well but I know from speaking with other immigrants that this isn’t always the case. They’ll serve tuna salad, “fillet American” (which is raw beef mixed with spices, which is not American.AT.ALL so I’m not sure where the name came from), curried chicken salad, egg salad on little melba toasts. A tray of these snacks is also passed around the circle, where everybody remains sitting, every 30 minutes or so. Once again, you take one (and be glad you got it!). At this point many of the party participants are feeling fairly good so who cares if you’re not eating! Loads of alcohol on an empty stomach is what makes the party!

All the while you’re sitting in your Dutch circle (with your Dutch family who you love very much, remember), listening to a variety of conversations spoken in a language that you already have a difficult time understanding when spoken one-on-one in a quiet setting. As the evening wares on, the talking is louder, more animated, more Dutch and you (read: me) just have to space out. It’s all you can do. Your only defense. You must fade into your happy place and hope that your partner is almost ready to go. Or that your toddler throws a gigantic tantrum and obviously needs to be put to bed. Or anything, really anything, will happen to get you out of that circle. That blasted circle where Auntie is telling that really inappropriate story once again, like she did last week and last month, and last year. Find your happy place people. Just find it.

It goes on like this for hours until the wee hours of the morn. There is no “end time” to a party, it’s just whenever the guests feel like leaving. My mother and father in law, who are in their early 70’s, have been known to stay up with their guests until 2 or 3 in the morning. Now THAT’s how you party like a Dutchie!

When you do finally part ways with your fellow party people, you once again kiss everybody three times and wave goodbye. You did it. You survived “The Circle”. Happy Birthday!

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And I DO love my Dutch family. I really, really do.

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Letters to the Editor

Letter: Time for Republicans to rally around President Donald Trump

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President Donald Trump will formally accept the Republican Party nomination for President at the Republican National Convention next week.

America is a country divided and by virtue of accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president, half the country will embrace him while the other half will want nothing to do with him.

The divide between Democrats and Republicans is nothing new, but what is new is the use of lawfare to target political rivals. Here in Illinois, the moment President Trump and his delegates filed their paperwork to be on the ballot in the Land of Lincoln, a group of far-left radicals immediately filed an objection to the filing. The objection was an outlandish legal charge that President Trump was the instigator of the events on January 6th, 2021, and was therefore not eligible to be on the ballot.

In the end these bogus accusations went nowhere. Even legal experts who were no fans of the 45th President thought the objection was ridiculous. But this is the state of affairs in politics today. Instead of putting ideas on the ballot and campaigning on the merits of those ideas, the far-left radicals are weaponizing our courts and targeting people solely on the basis of political ideology.

Donald Trump is without a doubt the most famous person in the world and like all famous people, he has his fans as well as his detractors. He is not “literally Hitler” as the extremists on the left claim. He is not the enemy of Democracy. He is a candidate for office like any other candidate. His ideas of a strong border, a strong military, low taxes, reduced business regulations, trade deals that protect American interests and a desire to protect America’s interests abroad have been a part of the public discourse for a long time. The notion that these ideas are an “assault on our Democracy” is just nonsense.

President Trump was leading in the majority of the battleground states long before the country saw Joe Biden’s decline in real time during the recent Presidential debate. And the reason he was leading in the polls is because Americans in growing numbers have rejected Joe Biden’s failed policies. The fact that Joe Biden has demonstrated his complete inability to serve has only served to give President Trump even more momentum than he already had ahead of the Republican National Convention.

It is time for our party to rally around our nominee. We cannot afford to continue Biden’s open border policies that are crippling our cities. We need a President who is strong on crime and who will work with state and local governments to keep our communities safe. We need a leader who will put an end to the inflation hurting so many families. I hear all of the time from constituents who are overwhelmed by the price of food and other household necessities. The current Administration won’t fix a problem and in fact they won’t even acknowledge the problem exists.

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I call on everyone who may have voted for someone other than Donald Trump to watch the Convention and rally around our nominee. So-called “Republicans” like Adam Kinzinger who have done the unthinkable and endorsed Joe Biden are not only embarrassing themselves, but they are contributing to our nation’s decline.

We cannot afford another four years of the Green New Scam, the open border policies and the weaponization of the justice department to target political opponents. Joe Biden ran to heal our country and all he has done is fracture us even more. It is time to put America first and Donald Trump will do just that. It is time for Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, and moderate Democrats to rally around President Trump and Make America Great Again!

State Representative Adam Niemerg

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Letters to the Editor

Letter: Domestic violence is prevalent in Macoupin County

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Dear Editor,

Domestic Violence within Macoupin County is prevalent. It is destructive and can be both physical and psychological. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, race, or sexual orientation. It may include behaviors meant to scare, physically harm, or control a partner. While every relationship is different – domestic violence generally involves an unequal power dynamic in which one partner tries to assert control over the other in a variety of ways. The following statistics are all according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

We can see domestic violence inside the home: through the use and control of household pets. In one study, 85% of survivors who experienced co-occurring animal abuse reported that the behavior of their pets had changed. An even higher percentage of survivors who reported partners had harmed or killed their pet, have also reported their partner for domestic violence. We can also see an increase usage of firearms within the intimate partner violence home. A survey of contacts by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found (of those with access to firearms):  

  • 10% said their abusers had fired a gun during an argument.  
  • 67% believed their abusers were capable of killing them. 

We can see domestic violence inside our schools: as partner violence is not exclusive to the home. There are many instances of violence between dating partners that begin in high school. Nearly 1.5 million high school students in the United States are physically abused by dating partners every year. Within those relationships, 13.4% of male high school students report being physically or sexually abused by a dating partner.  

We can see domestic violence inside our community: Macoupin County provides a specific set of needs for those victims and survivors of domestic violence. There are several complex concerns within a violent relationship that come to light once action has been taken. Safe Families sees a few main re-occurring concerns within the county:  

  • Survivors have fewer financial resources, making them more financially dependent on an abusive partner.  
  • The lack of rental units or other affordable housing options makes it more difficult for survivors to leave spouses or co-habiting abusers.  

The Macoupin County Safe Families program provides support for residents as they journey the emotional endeavors to leave behind domestic violence. As a contributor to that experience, we will be hosting a Domestic Violence Awareness Walk on October 7th on the Carlinville Square. An event shirt will be included with a ticket sale. The online tickets will close 09/29 at 5pm. Tickets will be sold at 9am day-of event at the Safe Families booth. More information about the Awareness Walk can be found on our website at mcphd@mcphd.net. We urge Macoupin County residents to join us and rally against domestic violence together.  

Juliet Wooldridge and Lilly Booth

Domestic Violence Advocate Coordinators
Community Health Worker
Macoupin County Safe Families

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Letters to the Editor

Letter: National Health Center Week is week of August 6

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Dear Editor,

Community Health Centers are the backbone of our nation’s primary health care system. We design innovative, integrated primary care based on what services communities need most — ensuring access to affordable, quality healthcare for over 30 million people. In addition to creating jobs and saving lives, collectively we save American taxpayers $24 billion a year in health care costs by preventing and managing chronic diseases.

Community Health Centers are not ordinary medical clinics; we are also problem-solvers who reach beyond the exam room to care for the whole person by providing access to necessities like food, transportation, and housing. Community Health Centers care for everyone, regardless of insurance status. Nationwide during hurricanes, floods, and fires, and locally during the pandemic, Community Health Centers are first on the scene and are vital to keeping America healthy.

The 2023 theme of National Health Center Week is ‘The Roadmap to a Stronger America.’ Community Health Centers serve as the beacon of strength, service, and care in their communities. In moments of pain and loss, we offer support and love. In moments of triumph, we offer hope and a vision for the future. This year’s National Health Center Week theme takes us on a virtual road trip across America, highlighting the achievements and amazing work being done at Community Health Centers in every state and territory. Celebrate the uniqueness of our community and get to know others as we journey across the U.S. together!

Each day of National Health Center Week is dedicated to a particular focus area. We will be working with community partners to recognize and celebrate each of the following focus groups in our community.

As part of National Health Center Week 2023, we invite you to support Macoupin Community Health Centers, Inc. to celebrate our mission and accomplishments.

Christy Blank
CEO/Public Health Administrator
Macoupin Community Health Centers, Inc.
Macoupin County Public Health Department

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