Skip to content

Festive traditions as hooks for teaching English as a foreign language


All over the world, adults prepare differently for the end-of-year festivities, depending on where they live and whom they worship.

Festive traditions as hooks for teaching English as a foreign language

From Christmas through to New Year’s Eve, and ending with Epiphany on January 6th, there is a boatload of native and non-native traditions you could use as a springboard for teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL).

To the unfamiliar, these traditions can be fascinating and lots of fun, all of which help encourage conversation and language development.

Read on to discover some interesting festive traditions that you could explore in your classroom and engaging activities you could complete together to learn about them.

Traditions of Christmas Day

Not generally known by any other name, Christmas Day is celebrated by Christians and secular people across the world as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Common celebrations include:

  • Decorating the internal and external areas of the house with lights, ornaments, winter plants and foliage, and a tree.
  • Leaving out a mince pie and, generally, an alcoholic nip for Santa and a carrot for the reindeer on Christmas Eve.
  • Going to church services on Christmas Eve and/ or Christmas day.
  • Exchanging gifts.
  • Sharing special meals with loved ones- this differs widely across the world. In Japan they eat KFC, in British homes they may have a roast dinner and in Norway, they may eat sheep’s heads with potatoes!

Christmas classroom activities

After discussing the traditions your learners partake in during Christmas, you could discuss the reason Christians and secular people celebrate it and why it is special to them.

It may be useful to identify key vocabulary at this time and display these words, for learners to refer to later.

  • Forage or make and hang decorations.

Possible discussion points: names of plants, trees, and materials of decorations and directional language to describe how the room is decorated, for example, hang the star at the top of the tree.

  • Make or try traditional Christmas food and drinks.

Chat about taste and smells of foods, names of food and drinks, ingredients food and drink are made from and sharing opinions about likes and dislikes are all great ways to get the conversation flowing.

  • Watch a Christmas service online or visit a church

Discuss: Church-specific vocabulary, for example, mass, vicar, service, hymn, etc, (this will depend on the religion in question), times of the day services are held and what people do and don’t do in church, etc.

Traditions of New Year’s Eve

People have celebrated the start of the new year for millennia and associate it with fresh starts and cover New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Common celebrations include:

  • Preparing for, and attending New Year’s Eve parties
  • The New Year’s Eve countdown
  • Kissing family and loved ones after the countdown
  • Watching fireworks
  • Making (and breaking) resolutions

New Year’s Eve classroom activities

As with Christmas, many of your learners may partake in specific celebrations during New Year’s Eve. This is a great topic to discuss and learn more about how and why it’s celebrated in all four corners of the world.

It will be useful to identify key vocabulary at this time and display these words, for learners to refer to later.

  • Plan and hold a class party

Possible discussion points: what you need for a party, what decorations to include and how/ where to hang them, times of the day and night, for example, people will arrive at 7 pm, the food will need to be cooked at 5 pm, etc.

  • Have a NYE style countdown

Include: why we count backwards during countdowns, counting specific vocabulary, including number names and what might happen at the end of the countdown.

  • Make a resolution

You could talk about what is the difference between a resolution and a promise, possible common resolutions and who is responsible for upholding the resolution.

Traditions of Epiphany

Epiphany is also called Three Kings Day, Denha, Little Christmas, Theophany, and Timkat and is a holiday where people exchange presents, especially in Spain and Latin America, who call it El Dia de los Reyes.

Epiphany although celebrated differently across Europe and the wider world, generally celebrates how a star led the Three Kings or Three Wise Men to visit baby Jesus after he was born.

Common celebrations include:

  • Leaving out drinks for the Three Kings on the night of January 5th.
  • Setting off fireworks on January 6th.
  • Holding parades that represent the journey the Wise Men took.
  • Receiving presents left by the Wise Men on Epiphany morning, sometimes left in the children’s shoes.
  • Eating special sweet bread treats called Rosca de Reyes that may have a figurine of Jesus inside. Whoever finds Jesus in their Rosca de Reyes must bring tamales to Dia de Candelaria (another Christian festival.)
  • Taking icy plunges in cold lakes and rivers.

Epiphany classroom activities

After discussing the traditions your learners may partake in during Epiphany, you could talk about the reason Christians celebrate it and why it is special to them.

It’s useful to identify key vocabulary and display these words, for learners to refer to later.

  • Discuss and prepare different drinks for kings, based on what the learners think kings may enjoy.

You could talk about: recipes, luxury and non-luxury food and drink, and what makes a king and the royal family.

Chat about firework safety, firework colours, and sound effects.

  • Plan parades through your local area, using landmarks and street names as reference points.

This is a great chance to teach common concrete nouns, for example, street light, letterbox, etc.

  • Go swimming in outdoor pools or recreate ice baths for hands with bowls of water and ice.

Describe temperature, including the difference in temperatures and how the temperature feels, how ice is made from water and climates/ weather experienced across the world.

Teach English as a foreign language this festive season

Do these activities light your festive fire?

Does teaching English as a foreign language sound fulfilling, flexible, and bags of fun?

Here at TEFL, we will help you on every step of your journey, from qualification to your first job, ensuring that you find a new career you will love.

Our TEFL courses are designed to give you the experience and qualifications you need to be able to plan, give, and assess engaging lessons for your English learners, helping them make good progress and enjoy every lesson.

If you have already completed your TEFL course, use the TEFL jobs resource to find a job teaching English as a foreign language in countries across the globe.

For more information on how you can begin your TEFL journey, call us on 0800 368 9848 or send us a quick email, we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.