Merry TEFL Christmas: Christmas Around the World!

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Travelling is undoubtedly one of the major attractions for people to become teachers of English as a foreign language. After all, who wouldn’t want to get paid to travel around the world and tick places off your bucket list? But as much as we hate to say it, there are a few downfalls to this nomadic lifestyle, and the biggest one has to be time spent away from family and friends. Of course, we will make new friends but there are definitely times during the year when we just want to be close to those near and dear to us.

And of all the birthday celebrations and festivals and holidays that we might miss, for many of us, Christmas can be the hardest. Which is why we want to introduce you to a TEFL Christmas!

Read more: Top 3 Ways to Make Friends While Abroad

A merry TEFL Christmas!

On the flip side, while we might miss a few celebrations with our friends and family back home, don’t forget that your new life will also give you new celebrations. From Songkran in Thailand to the Day of the Dead in Mexico, there are endless possibilities to take your mind off what you may be missing at home.

In the same way, even if we can’t be at home for Christmas, there is probably some sort of celebration wherever you are that you can adopt for the festive season. So let’s look at a few of the Christmas traditions around the world that you may find yourself a part of.

Holy Nativity Fast, Egypt

For 43 days before Christmas, Egyptian Christians participate in the Holy Nativity Fast, which is a vegan diet. On Christmas Eve, there is a mass which can last from 10.30 pm until as late as 4 am. After the mass, everyone goes home to celebrate with a Christmas feast which includes all the foods forbidden during the fast.

St Nicholas Day, Germany

On the night of December 5th, children all over Germany dutifully polish their shoes and leave them outside their doors. In the morning, they wake to find their shoes filled with sweets, nuts, and gifts.

Read more: Teach English in Germany

Samichlaus and Schmutzli, Switzerland

On the 6th of December, Samichlaus visits the children of Switzerland and hands out fruits, cookies, and chocolate. But he is not alone. He is accompanied by his helper Schmutzli, who wears a black robe and has a dark beard. He carries an empty bag and his job is to remind the children to be good throughout the year.

A merry TEFL Christmas in Switzerland

St. Lucia’s Day, Sweden

On 13 December, Swedes celebrate St. Lucia’s Day. On this day, which marks the beginning of the Christmas festivities, the eldest daughter in the family gets up before dawn. She dresses in a long, white dress, symbolising the patron saint of light who the day is named after. She must go to each family member in the house and serve them coffee and treats with the help of any younger siblings.

13 Yule Lads, Iceland

Iceland celebrates 13 days of Christmas. Each night before Christmas, Icelandic children will put their shoes by their windows. During the night they will be visited by the 13 Yule Lads who will leave either candy or rotten potatoes in their shoes, depending on their behaviour.

The Night of the Little Candles, Colombia

Colombians celebrate 7 December as the start of the festive season. On this night they celebrate Mary and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by lighting up their houses and streets with millions of little candles in paper lanterns.

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La Quema del Diablo, Guatemala

Also on 7 December, at sunset, Guatemalans gather at sunset to burn an effigy of the devil. Bonfires are lit in plazas around the country for the burning, which is believed to cleanse their homes of all the negative happenings of the year.

Las Posadas, Mexico

Between 16 and 24 December, the festival of Las Posadas is celebrated across Mexico. Children dress in robes and walk in a procession, stopping at houses along the way for refreshments. This is to symbolise Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Adults follow the children and musicians provide music along the route. On the last night, the children celebrate by breaking open pinãtas filled with sweets and toys.

The Giant Lantern Festival, Philipines

On the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the city of San Fernando holds the Giant Lantern Festival. Eleven villages take part in a competition to build the best (read: most elaborate) lantern. While originally the lanterns were made from origami paper and lit by a candle, today the lanterns can measure up to six meters in diameter and are lit by electric bulbs. They truly are a sight to behold.

Misa de Gallo, Costa Rica

Because the majority of the population in Costa Rica is Roman Catholic, Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is a very important occasion. Called Misa de Gallo, or the Mass of the Rooster, it is followed by a meal of pork and chicken tamales wrapped in plantain leaves.

Christmas Eve, Poland

In Poland, on Christmas Eve, families wait until the first star has appeared in the sky before they eat dinner together. They eat oplatek (a wafer), with each person breaking off a piece as they wish each other Merry Christmas. An extra place is set at the table for any uninvited guests.

Read more: 7 Budget-Friendly Destinations in Europe

Giving apples, China

Only 1% of the Chinese population is Christian, but this doesn’t stop them from celebrating Christmas! As the world’s largest manufacturer of plastic Christmas trees and decorations, the major Chinese cities are decorated every year to mark the occasion. Though Christmas Day itself is largely uneventful (except for the ex-pats there), many Chinese people give each other a gift of apples.

KFC Dinner, Japan

While historically the Japanese don’t really celebrate Christmas – with only a small percentage of the population being Christian – lately a new tradition has become popular, and it’s quite a simple one. Instead of a turkey or mince pies or mulled wine, a Japanese Christmas dinner is now a smorgasbord of all things Kentucky Fried Chicken. It all started in 1974 with a KFC marketing campaign which promoted Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner, and the tradition still continues today. In fact, an estimated 3.6 million families in Japan enjoy some of the Colonel’s festive fried chicken for Christmas dinner each year.

Ganna, Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated on 7 January. On this day, people dress in traditional white cotton cloths with brightly coloured stripes at the ends.

Boxing Day, South Africa

Many people find it strange that the southern hemisphere celebrates Christmas in summer but the South Africans know how to take advantage of the good weather. Christmas Day is usually celebrated by the poolside and families often gather at outdoor venues to sing carols by candlelight. Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is spent at the beach. 

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As you can see, Christmas is done quite differently in different parts of the world. If you are celebrating Christmas abroad, make sure you find out what your local community does to celebrate this time of year, and be sure to take part in communal celebrations. So even if you can’t be at home, you can still feel at home.

EFL Christmas lesson ideas

Of course, if you are in the classroom this festive season, why not include an few Christmas activities in your lessons. Here are some tried-and-tested EFL Christmas lesson ideas:

Christmas cards

If you teach Young Learners, you can dedicate a lesson to creating your own Christmas cards. Start by teaching vocabulary related to Christmas imagery, such as Christmas trees, Father Christmas, presents, stars, reindeer….whatever you can think of. Your students can then use these as ideas for their Christmas cards, which can be taken home and given to their families.

Secret Santa

This is a fun lesson even for those students who don’t celebrate Christmas. Elicit from your students that Christmas is a time when we give gifts to people we care about. Write down the names of your students on little pieces of paper. Hand out these pieces of paper to the students. Whoever’s name they are given, they must decide what gift they would buy this person for Christmas and why.

Encourage them to be creative! They must write the present and their reason on the piece of paper with the student’s name. The teacher gives the papers back to their original owners so they can read what gifts they have been given. Finally, they must guess who gave them that gift.

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Christmas songs

Christmas songs provide great listening activities for this time of year. You can use the traditional Christmas carols, like Jingle Bells or Silent Night or you can update your selection with contemporary songs like Do They Know It’s Christmas, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town or Last Christmas. Create activities like gap-fills or ordering the sentences for the students to do while they listen.

Holidays around the world

Even though Christmas is a universally recognisable holiday, there are many other holidays which may be more important to your students. Find out what holidays your students celebrate and write them on the board. Get your students to come up with questions they want to ask about those holidays. Arrange your students into groups so that they can discuss the different holidays with each other.

Christmas is a fun time of year for the classroom. It’s nice to take a break from the usual syllabus work and do something a bit different. Use these activity ideas to bring some festive cheer into your classroom.

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