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Christmas is just around the corner, presenting a wonderful opportunity to add some cultural richness and festive cheer to your ESL classes! Whether or not your students celebrate Christmas, you can engage them in a lively discussion about the diverse traditions associated with this global holiday. In doing so, you may uncover unique family customs among your students, adding a personal touch to the activity.
Exploring diverse ways people celebrate the festive season around the world can provide a profound and enlightening experience for your students and yourself. Irrespective of their cultural backgrounds, fostering an understanding of different holiday practices not only encourages tolerance but also promotes an appreciation for diversity.
To kickstart the conversation, here is a list of countries you can discuss with your students. If any of them reside in these countries, encourage them to share their personal insights and experiences with the class. For other students whose countries are not on this list, ask them to draw connections between the following traditions and their own cultural practices. They can also share about the distinctive ways their countries celebrate this holiday.
In the United States, Christmas is a time for family gatherings, festive decorations, and gift-giving. Many send Christmas cards to their loved ones and some Americans go to church to celebrate the birth of Jesus. A traditional meal involves roast turkey, glazed ham or roast beef along with an array of side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, stuffing, dressing, cranberry sauce, and green beans.
Cities and towns come alive with tall Christmas trees and elaborate light displays, and families often exchange presents on Christmas morning. The iconic Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City and the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., are shining beacons of holiday spirit. Special Christmas carols are sung and Christmas songs played in public and many families may decorate their houses with Santa, snowmen or reindeer.
In the United Kingdom, Christmas traditions are deeply rooted in history and folklore. The singing of Christmas carols door-to-door is a cherished tradition. Many families also enjoy a Christmas pudding, a rich and fruity dessert often set on fire before being served. There’s an exchange of gifts on Christmas Day and the Christmas tree decoration is a tradition popularized by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
Most cities and towns are decorated with Christmas lights, the most famous and extravagant being Oxford Street in London. Nativity plays are presented across the countries and children hang up stockings for Santa to leave presents. At 3pm on Christmas Day, the Queen presents a message that unites the nation in holiday spirit.
Germany is renowned for its enchanting Christmas markets, where visitors can explore rows of wooden stalls selling handcrafted ornaments, toys, and festive treats. With a mug of mulled wine in one hand and a giant pretzel in another, you can do your Christmas shopping surrounded by holiday cheer.
German homes are decorated with beautiful Christmas trees, lights, ornaments and candles. On Christmas Eve, families have a festive meal together with dishes like roasted goose and other regional specialties. On this day, gifts are exchanged and stories are shared.
The Christmas season in Germany typically begins with the start of advent in late November or early December. One of the most cherished traditions is the Advent calendar, where each day leading up to Christmas is marked with a small treat or gift. Overall, Christmas time in Germany is a time of warmth, tradition, and festive cheer, with a strong emphasis on family, community, and the joy of giving.
Christmas is not a traditional national holiday in Japan and while it’s gained popularity in recent decades, it’s not seen as a religious observance, rather a festive and romantic occasion. Christmas Eve is considered a romantic day, similar to Valentine’s Day. Couples would exchange gifts and go out for a special dinner, while enjoying the festive decorations in popular areas like Shibuya.
Fried chicken, particularly from KFC, has become a Christmas tradition, thanks to a successful marketing campaign in 1974 called “Kentucky for Christmas”. Christmas Day has become the busiest day for fried chicken restaurants! Another activity that has caught on in popularity is visiting Disneyland in Tokyo to see all the holiday decorations and parades.
Christmas in Australia falls during the summer, resulting in a warm and sunny celebration. Many Australians enjoy family time with outdoor barbecues, beach picnics, and festive shoreside activities. Seafood, such as prawns and crayfish, are popular choices for Christmas meals, often eaten in the open air. Families and friends also exchange gifts on Christmas Day and many households kick off the festive celebrations with the opening of gifts on Christmas morning.
Christmas lights and decorations are a common sight in Australian neighborhoods. Many families hang a wreath on their doors and put up Christmas trees. Carols and Christmas concerts are enjoyed in parks and public spaces. The “Carols by Candlelight” events, held in various cities, bring communities together for a night of song and celebration.
In Mexico, Christmas is a vibrant and colorful event that starts on December 12th and extends well beyond December 25th. Deeply rooted in religious traditions and rich cultural customs, families gather for festive meals and exchange gifts. Some traditional dishes on Christmas Eve include bacalao (salted cod), tamales and ponche, a warm fruit punch. After the meal, many families attend midnight mass to welcome Christmas Day.
One of the most significant aspects of Christmas in Mexico is the observance of the “Posadas.” These are a series of processions and reenactments that take place from December 16th to 24th, symbolizing Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem.
The holiday season in Mexico officially concludes on January 6th with the celebration of Epiphany or “Día de Reyes” (Three Kings’ Day). This day marks the arrival of the Three Wise Men, and it is customary for families to share a special sweet bread called “Rosca de Reyes.” Many towns and cities host parades and events to commemorate the occasion.
If you come from one of these countries above, what else can you add about Christmas celebrations in your country? If you’re from a country not listed above, let us know how Christmas is celebrated in your homeland in the comments below!