Christmas is celebrated on December 25th each year. It is originally a religious celebration, marking the day that Jesus Christ was born. Nowadays however, it is celebrated by both religious and non religious people alike. Usually people get together with family, friends and loved ones, enjoy a meal together and exchange gifts. It is, on the whole, a "warm and fuzzy" time of year.
Santa Claus (alternatively known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicolas or the fat guy in the red suit) is an icon of the Christmas season. It is believed that he lives in the North Pole, and throughout the year has the magical ability to monitor the behavior of every child in the world. He then makes a list dividing the children into two groups, the naughty and the nice and those who have been nice get presents at Christmas time. How does he deliver the presents? He flies through the sky on a sleigh pulled by 9 reindeer with his large bag of presents. The most famous reindeer is Rudolf who has a red nose that shines and helps Santa guide his sleigh. At each house he goes down the chimney and leaves the presents under the Christmas tree or he puts them in stockings (if they can fit!) that are hung up by the fireplace. Before he leaves he enjoys a snack that the children have left for him and then goes on his merry way.
The Christmas tree
The Christmas tree is another important tradition at this time of year. It is a pine tree that is sometimes real but artificial trees are more common. The tree is put up and decorated with decorations of many sorts. Bells, shiny Christmas balls, colorful lights and sometimes decorations made by the children at school. The final decoration is a star or an angel which is put up at the very top of the tree. The tree is traditionally kept up until the 6th of January. Mistletoe is another plant that is put up at this time of year and be careful, if you're caught standing under it, another person is allowed to give you a kiss, just hope it is someone you like!
As mentioned earlier this time of year is when families often get together and have a Christmas meal, either on Christmas eve (24th) or on Christmas day. It is a time where people forget about their diets and eat and drink a lot. They often complain that after this season they have acquired a few extra kilos! Traditional food is usually a large Christmas turkey or a huge leg of Christmas ham. Chocolates and sweets are also very popular and one in particular that stands out is called the candy cane. It is a red and white striped candy in the shape of a cane with a delicious Minty flavour.
For the children however the main focus of Christmas are the presents. This often causes a lot of stress for the parents and adults as they spend a lot of time running around trying to find the perfect gift as well as one that is within their price range. The shopping malls resemble mad houses for this very reason, with masses of people frantically rushing around like headless chickens! This is why many people dislike Christmas, feeling it has become a time for commercial propaganda and that the true Christmas spirit has been forgotten. Luckily not all people have been affected in this way and donate old toys to charities and orphanages and provide food to the homeless.
Traditional Christmas songs are called 'carols' and are heard everywhere at this time of year. They use all kinds of instruments but are often accompanied by bells. Often choir groups will go door knocking around their local neighborhood and sing for the people in hope of a Christmas donation.
A lot of people like to send cards to their loved ones to wish them a 'Merry Christmas', especially if they live far away and will not be able to see them at Christmas time. They come in a wide range of designs and colours although the traditional colours are red and green. You will find that more and more people send their Christmas message via e-mail because it's cheaper and easier.
The re-enacting of the birth of Jesus Christ is very typical in schools and churches during the Christmas holidays or a little before. They're usually held in schools before the holidays and at church on the special day itself of Christmas eve. Children usually dress-up in old rags and towels to play the important figures during the birth of Jesus, including the Virgin Mary, the three kings, Joseph and sometimes the animals in the barn.
Children are forever nagging their parents for the latest toy, video game, bicycle and Christmas is the perfect moment to pile on the pressure. Parents find it hard getting something for their children that the children will appreciate and keeping within the price range. Gifts could range from remote control cars to doll houses. Adults on the other hand, don't have this problem. Sometimes adults are not too interested in presents and tend not to make a big fuss over the exchanging of gifts, although they buy something for their loved ones, the gifts tend to be somewhat low key and maybe a bit boring, such as ties, socks, jumpers, toiletries, calendars, diaries etc. Maybe Christmas should stay with the children, considering that they get better presents and have a lot more fun playing with them.
Boxing day, the 26th of December, is celebrated in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Greenland, Hong Kong and a number of other countries. It is called this because traditionally it was the day for giving gifts to the less wealthy people and servants (who sometimes had to work on Christmas day). It doesn't happen much now and the day is mainly an extra holiday for many people to recover from their Christmas excesses! A common tradition (in New Zealand and Australia) is also to go to the boxing day races. People take a picnic and go to the race track to place a few bets on the horses or simply to enjoy the atmosphere in family.
Northern v Southern hemisphere
The boxing day races tradition is obviously only possible in the southern hemisphere, because Christmas is in the summer time. In this part of the world people often go to the beach, either for a day trip or rent a house to spend a few days.
In the Northern hemisphere many countries associate Christmas with snow and a time to go outside and build a snowman or have battles with snow balls!
Christmas Vocabulary ESL Video
Advent Calendar: a calendar containing small numbered flaps which are opened one a day leading up to Christmas. Under each flap there may be a picture or a chocolate.
Angel: a spiritual being believed to act as a messenger of God. An angel is typically represented in human form with wings and a long white robe. Sometimes an angel is placed at the top of a Christmas tree instead of a star.
Candle: a cylinder (or block) of wax with a wick through the middle. This wick is lit to produce light as it burns.
Candy Cane: a cylindrical stick of red and white striped candy resembling a walking stick.
Carols: a religious folk song associated with Christmas and usually sung by groups of people outside houses. See an example of a Christmas Carol here: The 12 Days of Christmas
Chimney: a (typically brick) structure through which smoke is carried away from a fire and through the roof of a building. Santa Claus comes down the chimney to leave gifts under the Christmas tree.
Christmas Eve: the night before Christmas (the 24th)
Christmas Tree: a real or artificial tree which is decorated with lights and ornaments as a part of Christmas celebrations. Gifts are left at the bottom of the tree.
Elf: (plural: Elves) the Christmas elf is a small creature that lives with Santa Claus in the North Pole and acts as his helper by making toys and taking care of the reindeer. The are typically dressed in red and green with pointy hats.
Gift: something that is given to another person without payment in return. Another way to say gift is present.
Gingerbread: A type of cookie/biscuit made of ginger, nutmeg or cinnamon and sweetened with honey or sugar. At Christmas time you will see cookies in the shape of a person or houses made of gingerbread.
Holly: a shrub with prickly dark green leaves and red berries
Lights: An electrical source of illumination. Christmas trees, and sometimes houses, are decorated with lights.
Merry: happy, cheerful and lively. Full of joy.
Mistletoe: A plant that is used as a Christmas decoration. It is traditional to kiss someone when you are both under it.
North Pole: The icy region at the top of the planet Earth. Santa Claus lives in the North Pole.
Ornament: a thing that is used to make something look more attractive but usually has not practical purpose. Christmas trees are decorated with ornaments.
Pudding: a sweet food eaten at the end of a meal. Sometimes it is a dessert with a creamy consistency.
Reindeer: a deer from the subartic regions of North America and Europe. Santa's sleigh is pulled by reindeer.
Rudolph: the reindeer that leads Santa's sleigh. He has a shiny red nose that is useful to guide the way in fog.
Santa Claus: A man with a white beard and a red suit who is said to bring gifts to the homes of children that are well-behaved. He is also know just as Santa.
Sleigh: a sled (form of transport) that is pulled by horses or reindeer and used to transport people across snow or ice.
Star: a shiny point in the night sky. A star is often placed at the top of a Christmas Tree.
Stocking: (Christmas stocking) a long sock that is hung up by children on Christmas Eve so that Santa Claus can fill it with small gifts.
Stuffing: a mixture of breadcrumbs, onion and spices used to fill (or stuff) poultry (= turkey or chicken) before cooking.
Tinsel: a form of decoration consisting of thing strips of shiny metal foil.
Turkey: a large bird that is native to North America. It has a bald head and red flesh handing from its neck. It is a typical dish for Christmas.
Wreath: an arrangement of flowers and leaves fastened to form a ring. They are used for decoration.
Try our interactive Christmas Traditions Game
Resources for Teachers and Parents
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