“It’s that time of the year when people world-wide celebrate Christmas. The following article highlights six countries and their uniques versions of celebrating Christmas.” J. Margolies, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“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 (see cicts.org for listings of services), 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.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I Pre-Reading Activities
Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming
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. Discuss as a class and list these ideas on the board.
II While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- 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 are door-to-door processions that re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter.
- Tthe most awe-inspiring custom is the century-old competition known as the Noche de Rábanos.
- The 403-year-old capital of Quebec province revels in the outdoors at Christmastime.
- Just visit into any church or cathedral you happen by.
- In Italy there are burlap-and-straw depictions of the Italian witch called La Befana.
- Bonfires blaze nightly in the plazas, bringing a block-party vibe to this New Mexico town.
True / False
Directions: The following statements were taken from the article. If a statement is true, write (T) if a statement is false write (F).
- Each country mentioned in the article has similar ways of celebrating Christmas.
- The 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 kept under wraps until Dec. 24.
- La Befana, is an Italian santa said to fly around on a broomstick.
- In Taos, N.M. celebrations blend Catholic and Native American traditions.
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.
- Can you see any similarities between the six celebrations?
- What new information have you learned from this article? Share it with your group and then as a class.
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.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.