Christmas is coming: Curious British and American Christmas facts and traditions
Christmas is Coming!
Curious British and American Christmas Facts and Traditions
(A talk and quiz for your class or school)
To be used with the following Slideshare presentation:
FOCUS: Christmas vocabulary, trivia, fun, and a quiz at the end.
AGE GROUP: Teenagers, adults.
DURATION: Approximately one hour. We recommend you run through it beforehand so that
you are familiar with the content.
SLIDES 2-3: Warm up. Students brainstorm things they know about Christmas.
SLIDE 4: Many people consider the modern idea of Christmas to come from the writings of
Charles Dickens who wrote many popular Christmas stories. Elicit his most famous: A
Christmas Carol. These stories captured the ideas we most commonly associate with
Christmas nowadays like peace, love, giving and goodwill. Elicit the villain of the story:
SLIDES 5-9: Students watch a short video clip from an adaptation of A Christmas Carol at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN_IiRP0caw They then do the activities which follow.
SLIDES 10-11: Students brainstorm adjectives they associate with Scrooge (examples
given). Then elicit that Scrooge becomes a good person by the end of the story and who
helps him make this change: The ghosts or spirits.
SLIDES 12-15: Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former business partner, is the first ghost to visit
Scrooge and tells him of the other ghosts who will visit him that night. Can the students name
the ghosts? Tell students that Charles Dickens was fascinated by the supernatural (he also
wrote many ghost stories) and belonged to a club called “The Ghost Club.” Another member
was fellow Victorian Writer Arthur Conan Doyle. Can students tell you what character/stories
he is famous for?
'Twas the class before Christmas… Pearson Webinars for English Teachers December 2016 1
SLIDES 16-63: INTERESTING CHRISTMAS FACTS AND TRADITIONS
SLIDES 17-18: After speaking about Rudolf introduce the other reindeer. And tell the
students about this interesting fact: It might be most logical to conclude that Santa’s reindeer
are actually all female because in many species of reindeer, unlike most deer, the females
actually have antlers. They grow them in the winter and shed them in the summer. The
males do the opposite, growing them in the summer and shedding them in the winter.
SLIDES 19-20: What do you know about this plant? Tradition: kissing under the mistletoe.
Mistletoe grows on apple and willow trees. The seeds are spread through the defecation of
birds. In fact, the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan literally means “poo on a stick.” In Norse
Mythology, mistletoe is a sign of love and friendship. This probably has something to do with
all that kissing. The ancient Drutds also considered it sacred because it remains green and
bears fruit during the winter when most other plants appear to die.
SLIDES 21-24: The origins of Santa Claus. Although it is a popular myth that Santa Claus
was created by Coca-Cola, he actually has his origins elsewhere. He is probably based on a
real person called Saint Nicolas of Myra who lived in Turkey during the 4th
Century and was
known both for secret gift giving (putting coins in children’s shoes) and protecting children.
The Dutch probably based their Sinterklass on him, though this figure was much sterner and
carried a birch rod which he used to punish children. There may even be some of the
Germanic god, Odin, in Santa. He would ride on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir and was
accompanied by eight reindeer as well. What’s more, he was known for putting candy in
children’s boots on the Yule, a holiday celebrated around the time of Christmas. Yule and
Yuletide are words used in English today to speak about Christmas and originate with this
Germanic holiday. The idea of celebrating Christmas Eve is probably tied to this tradition as it
was on this night, or the “Mother’s Night”, when a trio of female spirits would appear.
SLIDES 25-63: These slides detail some of the differences between Christmas in
Britain and America. There can obviously be some disagreement about these things
as there is much overlap and many exceptions exist as well. Most are self-explanatory,
but here are some notes on a few of the slides:
SLIDES 32-33: There is possibly more variety in the USA due to the fact that Americans
celebrated Thanksgiving with a big Turkey just one month before Christmas and they may be
looking for something a bit different!
SLIDES 34-35: Mince pies, made with fruit-based mincemeat, are virtually unknown in the
USA. Americans tend to eat Christmas cookies flavored with anise or made from
gingerbread, which come in shapes and are decorated with icing.
SLIDE 37: Not all Americans do this obviously, but they do take the tree down later than the
British normally do!
SLIDES 38-40: The first family oversees the tree-lighting at the White House in the USA. At
3 o’clock on Christmas day the Queen delivers The Royal Christmas Message via both radio
and TV. The first televised broadcast of the Queen’s Xmas messages was in 1957, but this
tradition began on the radio in 1932 by George V. (movie: The King’s Speech). In 2007, the
'Twas the class before Christmas… Pearson Webinars for English Teachers December 2016 2
Q launched her own channel on Youtube, which featured the message. The launch marks the
50th anniversary of the Q’s first televised message in 1957.
SLIDES 41-42: Famous squares for famous trees. The tree in Trafalgar Square has been an
annual gift from the people of Oslo to the British since 1947 as a token of gratitude for their
help in WWII. The tree in Rockefeller Plaza is cut down every year and the wood is given to
Habitat for Humanity to build houses for the poor.
SLIDES 43-45: The 23-minute silent animated film “The Snowman” is a classic in Britain. In
the USA The Yule Log was created in 1966 by Fred M. Thrower, the president of a TV station
in New York and was played over and over again through the night for city-dwellers who did
not have a fireplace! The tradition of burning a huge log during the holidays probably
originates with the desire to ward off evil spirits. A Yule Log cake is a popular dessert for the
SLIDES 47-49: A Christmas pudding made with nuts, raisins, spices, candied fruit and rum is
most decidedly British. Often a coin will be placed inside and whoever finds it will have good
luck (or a broken tooth!). Americans, remember, have Christmas cookies.
SLIDES 50-53: Christmas Crackers (definitely British) are decorated cardboard tubes which
are broken open (often by crossing over your arms with people in a group) creating a popping
sound. They normally contain a paper crown or hat, a joke written on a slip of paper and a
small gift. Many times these jokes will be in the form of a pun, or play on words.
SLIDES 54-59: A brief assortment of the kinds of jokes you might find in a Christmas
SLIDES 60-61: Egg Nog is very American. The alcohol is optional (kids and many adults
prefer a non-alcoholic version).
SLIDES 62-63: No, this is not a pugilistic event! Boxing Day which is the day after Christmas
is a bank holiday in the UK and the time when employers traditionally gave their workers
“boxed” presents. It is largely unknown of in the USA but celebrated in Canada.
SLIDES 64-82: A QUIZ WITH 8 QUESTIONS FROM THE TALK TO MAKE SURE YOUR
STUDENTS HAVE BEEN LISTENING PLUS ONE MORE BONUS QUESTION.
You can turn this into a competition for a bit of extra fun!
'Twas the class before Christmas… Pearson Webinars for English Teachers December 2016 3