September 26 – New Dominions Join the Empire

Posted on September 26, 2016

When I say, “the Empire,” I don't mean the horrible galaxy-wide dictatorship that Strikes Back in the Star Wars movies – that's fictional – instead, I mean the British Empire, which straddled the globe in the 1800s and the early 1900s. It was made up of a variety of dominions, colonies, protectorate, mandates, plus other territories.

On this date in 1907, two new “New” dominions joined the British Empire:

New Zealand and Newfoundland.

First, what's a dominion?

It was a semi-independent political unit. British dominions were considered to be under the British Crown (in modern times, Queen Elizabeth II), but they were governed by locally-elected governments. They shared a common citizenship and collaborated on foreign affairs and defense.

Since World War II, there is no more “British Empire.” All the dominions became fully independent of the United Kingdom, although they remain in the Commonwealth of Nations and still have Queen Elizabeth II as their reigning sovereign.

Now, what do you know about New Zealand and Newfoundland?

For each question, answer “New Zealand” or “Newfoundland” or “both”:

  1. It is now part of Canada (joined in 1949).

  1. It was the filming location for ALL of the scenes of The Lord of the Rings movies.

  1. Its capital (Wellington) is the southernmost capital city in the world.

  1. There are no land snakes there.
  1. It consists of one or more islands.
  2. On 9-11, the horrible terrorist attack in New York City and other U.S. places on September 11, 2001, thirty-nine U.S.-bound airplanes were diverted there, and about 6,600 travelers were stranded there for three days! They were taken into private homes and treated with hospitality that is still remembered today.
  3. It's known for its native kiwi bird – the bird is such a national icon that people who live there are called “Kiwis.”
  4. It has its own time zone, 30 minutes offset from neighboring time zones.
  5. It is home to more species of penguins than any other country.

  6. It has a dog breed named after it.

  7. Its population is largely descended from British settlers. Of course there are also people descended from aboriginal or native peoples.

  1.  Its flag:

  2. Its flag:

  3. Its scenery:

  4. Its scenery:

1) Newfoundland - 2) New Zealand - 3) New Zealand – 4) Both - 5) Both - 6) Newfoundland - 7) New Zealand - 8) Newfoundland - 9) New Zealand - 10) Newfoundland - 11) Both - 12) Newfoundland - 13) New Zealand - 14) New Zealand - 15) Newfoundland

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September 25 – Feast Day of Niklaus von Flüe in Switzerland

Posted on September 25, 2016

Did you know that the “patron saint” of Switzerland is Saint Nicholas of Flüe, also known as Brother Klaus?

Wait! – Saint Nicholas? Saint Klaus?

Don't get excited – Santa Claus / Saint Nick / Sinterklaas is Saint Nicholas of Myra. Basically the same name, but from a different place. Thus, a different guy.

The original Nicholas of Flüe was a farmer / military leader / government official until he had a vision and became a hermit and mystic. He lived in Switzerland in the 1400s, and his wisdom is considered to have prevented a war between the various Swiss cantons.

I read that Brother Klaus was the son of “wealthy peasants,” a concept I found interesting. Somehow, the word peasant always makes me think of people who live in the country and are quite poor. But I guess if your station in life is “peasant,” but you work so hard and so efficiently that you are able to grow more crops, raise more cows, or whatever – you could end up growing rich?

Here's an oddity: Nicholas of Flüe's Feast Day is March 21 everywhere but in Germany and Switzerland – and in those two nations, his Feast Day is today, September 25.

Cool things about Switzerland

You probably know that Switzerland is a beautiful nation in Europe, with plenty of mountains (Alps), streams, waterfalls, and lakes, but no access to an ocean or sea. It's landlocked – but what a beautiful chunk of land to be “locked” in!

The people of Switzerland have a strong national identity and shared values – which is very cool but almost surprising, since they speak four different official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Since there is so much linguistic diversity, Swiss coins and stamps use the Latin name, Helvetia, for the nation rather than one of the living official languages.

You see, Switzerland is the English name for the country. Its other names include:

Schweiz – German
Suisse – French
Svizzera – Italian
Svizra – Romansh
Helvetia – Latin

And the country is also known as Confoederatio Helvetica, with the abbreviation CH. In international tables, Swiss francs are listed as CHF. 

Interestingly enough, Switzerland is not part of the EU, and it continues to use its traditional Swiss franc rather than the euro. But Switzerland is a highly developed nation, a wealthy nation, a nation of banks. When we were there way back in the 1990s, we could use dollars from the U.S., lira from Italy, pounds from England, whatever! And we could even use credit cards with street vendors and small purchases – something that is pretty common here in the U.S. nowadays but was very unusual back then. I thought it was smart that it had made itself the easiest country in which to spend money – because people are more apt to spend where they CAN spend, right?

Switzerland has much more direct democracy than most democracies, because citizens can challenge any law passed by their parliament. They have to collect 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days of the law's passage – and if they do so, it becomes a referendum. Voters decide by a simple majority whether or not to accept the law.

The Swiss are not only wealthy compared to others in the world, they are longer lived than most and happier than most. Most years, they come out as #1 or 2 in most rankings (longest life expectancy, safest country, happiest country, best country to live in, etc.).

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September 24 – Heritage Day in South America

Posted on September 24, 2016

"When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.” – Nelson Mandela

To match South Africa's rainbow-ish flag, the former Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called it the “Rainbow Nation,” acknowledging all the ethnic and cultural diversity.

One of the provinces of South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal, used to celebrate September 24 as Shaka Day, in honor of the legendary Zulu King Shaka. When the lawmakers of South Africa were hashing out the Public Holidays Bill in 1995, the Zulu people objected to the bill because it didn't include Shaka Day. As a compromise, Heritage Day was created.

Heritage Day is often celebrated with braais, which are barbecues – informal backyard get-togethers, good food on the grill. This has been so popular that, to some extent, some people have been calling the holiday “National Braai Day.” I'm not sure that this rebranding will maintain “the reason for the season” some concerned South Africans have commented.

Here are some of the groups that make up the nation:

Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga, Tswana, Swazi, Pedi, Sotho, Venda, Ndebele, Afrikaans (descendents of Dutch setters), descendents of British colonizers, and descendents from Indonesia, India, France, Germany, and Portugal.

One can see some of this variety in the fact that there are eleven official languages plus quite a few unofficial languages! In contrast, many nations have only one official, national language (the U.K., France, Germany are just a few examples).

Of course, many of these groups live in urban areas and wear “modern” or “Westernized” clothes, but here are a few clothing traditions:


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