Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, Eid-al-Adha, Diwali… some of us have never even heard of these holidays! But in cultures all around the world, and since the beginning of recorded history, humans have celebrated during this time of year, often using candlelight to symbolize the winter solstice. Even as far back as ancient Rome, the festival Saturnalia, celebrated on December 23rd , involved gift giving, elaborate meals and lighting candles.
Isn’t it interesting that similar traditions exist all over the world during the same time of year? They have different names and may have slightly different dates, but the way families and communities come together during the final weeks of the calendar year to celebrate together is something rather remarkable when you think about it. These traditions with their different languages, locations, cultures and religions create a link between us all during the holiday season.
Of course in the Western world, Christmas is the most well-known winter holiday. And even though the Christmas holiday is rooted in the Christian religion, more and more non-religious people, and even people from other cultures and faiths, now celebrate Christmas.
Why is this, do you think?
The popular Western version of Christmas is now very well known thanks to television, film, and music that has been created since the beginning of the 20th Century. The Christmas celebration has taken on an identity of its own with such characters as Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, The Grinch and many more who represent the holiday.
Have you ever seen or heard of these characters?
In fact, the most commonly recognized image of Santa Claus (also known around the world by many names such as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, and many more… ) was actually invented by the Coca-Cola company for their advertising campaign from Christmas 1931!
But what many people forget about that story is that the artist working for Coca-Cola turned to the classic Christmas poem “Twas The Night Before Christmas” for inspiration for his portrait of the legendary character.* We have seen this version of Mr. Claus and his friends in many films and television shows over the past several decades.
In recent years, watching Christmas movies and television programs has become a real part of the Western holiday tradition!
It sounds too good to be true, and in fact many students become frustrated when they watch a film in English and they can’t follow the film as well as a native speaker can. When this happens, you must remember that it this is just part of the lesson: learning a second language requires a lot of patience, and you must learn to trust in the fact that your brain is already working!
Remember, watching and listening are passive activities, and you should try to relax and approach the exercise with the curiosity of a child!
Try watching these 5 Classic Christmas movies (in English and with English subtitles) to improve your English :
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: Anything that can go wrong for the Griswold family during Christmas will certainly happen in this slapstick comedy about a dysfunctional family during the holidays. (level: easy)
Home Alone: This modern classic from the 1990’s reminds us what it’s like to be a kid during the Christmas season; a comedy for the whole family! (level: easy)
Elf: Starring the popular American comedian Will Ferrell, this film is about one of Santa Claus’ special “elf” helpers, who finds out he is really just an ordinary human. A very funny movie! (level: easy)
A Christmas Story: This cult comedy from the 1980’s, taking place in the American Midwest of the 1940’s, follows a boy’s life during the Christmas season, as he tries to convince his parents to buy him a special Christmas gift! (level: moderate)
It’s a Wonderful Life: One of the most well-loved films of all time, and often watched at Christmastime, this classic film from 1946 starring James Stewart reminds us what is most important in life: family and friends. (level: difficult)
*BONUS EXERCISE: Follow the link in the article and try reading Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem about Santa Claus, using the rhymes at the end of each line to help reinforce your pronunciation! Children love to hear this poem read aloud!
What holiday traditions do you celebrate in your home country?
Have you watched any of these holiday movies? What do you think of this technique for improving English?
Did you try to read the Christmas poem?
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