It’s that time of the year when people world-wide celebrate Christmas. This is one of our favorite lessons on Christmas celebrations. The following article highlights six countries and their unique traditions for celebrating Christmas.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key.
Excerpt: Six Christmas Traditions From Around the World, By Jane Margolies, The New York Times
“Christmas trees, Santa Claus and gingerbread lattes are all well and good. But with the homogenizing creep of Yuletide customs, travelers might well worry they’ll go to the trouble of getting somewhere new over the holidays only to find it’s just like everywhere else. Not the six places here. Each has its own way of celebrating Christmas, and with the festivities unfolding in plazas, parks and other public places, travelers are free to join right in.
This pretty English village in Derbyshire’s Peak District is known for its walking paths and, high on a hill, the picturesque ruins of a Norman castle. It’s also home to four spectacular caverns bristling with stalagmites and stalactites. On weekends leading up to Christmas two of the caves offer caroling sing-alongs.
In most parts of Israel, where Christians make up about 2 percent of the population, it’s business as usual on Dec. 24 and 25. But in this city where Jesus lived and died, Christmas is joyously celebrated in the Christian quarter of the Old City. Churches decorated with trees conduct nonstop services in many languages with Jews and Muslims often sitting in. Marching bands and bagpipers led by Arabian horses weave through the narrow streets to Manger Square, the plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity, which stands on the grotto where Jesus was born.
Posadas — door-to-door processions that re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter — and a parade with candlelit paper lanterns fill the streets of this city in southwestern Mexico… But the most awe-inspiring custom is the century-old competition known as the Noche de Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) on the evening of Dec. 23. In the zócalo, the city’s central square, under a canopy of lights, farmers display elaborate sculptures — nativity scenes, robed kings, musicians — all carved out of the giant radishes grown locally.
You would think temperatures in the teens and wind whipping off the St. Lawrence River would drive everyone indoors. But the 403-year-old capital of Quebec province revels in the outdoors at Christmastime, when stone buildings sparkle with lights. Fortify yourself with maple sugar pie from the Ferme Line & Steve Morency stand at Le Marché de Noel in the farmers’ market in the Old Port area.
Although the larger-than-life nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square is under wraps until Dec. 24, when this year’s still-top-secret version will be unveiled just in time for the Pope’s midnight Mass, you can feast your eyes on the remarkably detailed 18th-century Neapolitan carved-wood crib… Piazza del Popolo, to see crib elements made of everything from coral to chocolate. Or just duck into any church or cathedral you happen by.
Bonfires blaze nightly in the plazas, bringing a block-party vibe to this New Mexico town. Farolitos (brown paper bags lighted with votive candles) line streets, snaking past galleries and art studios… When the Spanish came here in the 17th century, they brought their culture, and today celebrations blend Catholic and Native American traditions.”
WISHING EVERYONE A JOYOUS CHRISTMAS!
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will read the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. In addition, students will express their personal views on the topic through discussions, and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
Stimulating background knowledge
Directions: Place students in groups, to find out what they already know about Christmas celebrations in different countries. Next, have students look at the pictures in the article to generate ideas or words about the topic. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board.
Have students use the UIE brainstorming chart (sample) for brainstorming the meanings of terms.
II. While Reading Tasks
Words In Context
- This pretty English village in Derbyshire’s Peak District is known for … the picturesque ruins of a Norman castle.
- At Peak Cavern’s evening songfests participants sit inside the… cave — which has great acoustics — to belt out “We Three Kings” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
- From Jerusalem, many people make the pilgrimage six miles south to Bethlehem…
- …the plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity, which stands on the grotto where Jesus was born.
- Posadas — door-to-door processions that re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter…
- But the most awe-inspiring custom is the century-old competition known as the Noche de Rábanos…
- But the 403-year-old capital of Quebec province revels in the outdoors at Christmastime…
- Or just duck into any church or cathedral you happen by.
- …along with burlap-and-straw depictions of the Italian witch called La Befana, said to fly around on a broomstick at Epiphany…
- Bonfires blaze nightly in the plazas, bringing a block-party vibe to this New Mexico town.
True / False/ NA
Directions: The following statements were taken from the article. If a statement is true, students write (T) if a statement is false they write (F) and provide the correct answer from the article. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA
- Each country mentioned in the article has similar ways of celebrating Christmas.
- This pretty English village in Derbyshire’s Peak District is known for its walking paths.
- On weekends leading up to Christmas in Derbyshire’s Peak people can sing in the caves.
- From Bethlehem many people make the pilgrimage six miles south to Jerusalem, to celebrate.
- In Oaxaca, Mexico, the most awe-inspiring custom is the century-old competition known as El Día de los Muertos on the evening of Dec. 23.
- Creations such as Nativity scenes, robed kings, musicians, are all carved out of the giant radishes grown locally.
- In Quebec City the 403-year-old capital of Quebec province revels in the outdoors at Christmastime.
- In Rome the larger-than-life nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square is under wraps until Dec. 24 … will be unveiled just in time for the Pope’s midnight Mass.
- La Befana, is an Italian santa said to fly around on a broomstick at Epiphany, dropping down chimneys to leave candy or lumps of coal.
- In Taos, N.M. celebrations blend Catholic and Native American traditions.
• Grammar Focus
Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from this lesson and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. After, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can choose to write an essay on one of the discussion topics.
- Describe how Christmas is celebrated in your country.
- Which celebration described in this article is your favorite? Explain why.
- List the similarities and differences between the six celebrations.
Directions: Have students go to this site Santa’s Net which has a large collection of traditions from different countries. Have each group choose a country that celebrates Christmas differently from the ones mentioned here, and describe that country’s celebration.
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: First Lady Previews the 2012 White House Holiday Decorations
First Lady Michelle Obama welcomes military families, including Gold Star and Blue Star parents, spouses and children, to the White House for the first viewing of the 2012 holiday decorations.
While Listening Tasks
Directions: Students listen for the correct word or phrase to complete the sentences taken from the video. They are to choose the words from the choices provided.
1. As First Lady, I think you all know that I have had the ___of traveling all across this country.
2. It’s a___ house. I like it.
3. Our___ families truly represent the very best that this country has to offer.
4. You are just ___ focused parents.
5. And then, there are our military kids. You guys look ___today, and handsome and very clean.
6. And we’re going to try to change that, because we’re going to have sugar and ___and stuff like that.
7. And so many of you step up and handle your ___while mom or dad is away. Right? You do what you can do.
8. And I just want you all to ___– all of you — just how proud we are.
9. And that’s really why we wanted to___all of you here today — to say thank you.
10. And we are also___ our military families with some very special decorations on the official White House Christmas tree that’s in the Blue Room.
Questions for Discussion
Directions:Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
- After listening to this video what do you think of Mrs. Obama plan to invite the children of military parents for fun activities at the White House?
- What is your personal opinion of Michelle Obama? Would you like to meet her?
- With your group members, make up questions that you would like to ask the First Lady or her staff members. Share them with the class.
ANSWER KEY: Christmas Traditions