Christmas time is a fantastic time to encourage your students with their language studies!They’re already excited about the festive period, so learning about how Christmas is celebrated in France, Italy, Germany and Spain will be fascinating for them – especially if they’re able to sample some of the tasty festive treats!
In some northern and eastern regions of France, including Alsace and Lorraine, the festive season, Noël, starts on 6th December, on St. Nicholas’ Day – la Saint-Nicolas. Les enfants sages (well-behaved children) receive gifts from St. Nicholas – usually des fruits secs (dried fruit), des bonbons (sweets) or des chocolats (chocolates). Les vilains garnements (naughty children) receive their gift from St. Nicholas’ sinister companion – Père Fouettard. His gifts are usually not so welcome – le charbon (coal) or les coups de fouet (lashes with his whip)!
The French enjoy a special meal on la veillée (Christmas Eve), known as le réveillon¸ as well as a feast on Christmas Day itself. The table will generally be groaning under rich foods such as le foie gras, les huîtres (oysters), le saumon fumé (smoked salmon) and les escargots (snails). Taking centre stage on Christmas Day is usually la dinde aux marrons (turkey roasted with chestnuts).
In terms of Christmassy treats, the most common dessert eaten on Christmas Day is la bûche de Noël (Christmas log). If you have a sweet tooth, you may want to spend the festive period in Provence, where they enjoy les treize desserts (the 13 desserts), which represent Christ and les douze apôtres (the 12 apostles).
For Italians, food is a huge part of the festive period. As a Catholic country, on la vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) meat is avoided. And on the day itself, as with many other countries in Europe, a feast of rich food is enjoyed. Some of the sweet treats enjoyed include panettone and pandoro, just two examples of the sweet breads eaten at Christmas in Italy.
Nativity scenes are essential decorations during the Christmas period in Italy. The presepi handmade in Naples are the most famous. A presepe is usually set in una stalla (stable) and represents la nascità di Gesù (the birth of Jesus). The scene features il Gesù bambino (the baby Jesus), Giuseppe e Maria, i Re Magi (Three Wise Men), i pastori (sheep), and often un agnello (a lamb), un bue (an ox) and un asinello (a donkey).
In Italy, i bravi bambini (good children) look forward to receiving i regali (presents) and i dolci (sweets) from la Befana on the 6th January (Epiphany), as well as, or instead of, from Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) on Christmas Day.
Like almost everywhere else in Europe, the Spanish too have some tasty treats to enjoy during Navidad (Christmas time). There’s el turrón (a type of nougat) and los polvorones (powdery almond biscuits – a bit like shortbread).
While Spanish children may open presents on Christmas Day, the traditional day for gift-giving during the Christmas period is 6th January, the Día de Reyes (Three Kings Day or Epiphany). Los Reyes Magos (the Three Wise Men) bring children presents on the night of the 5th-6th January, as they brought gifts to el niño Jesús (the baby Jesus) and a special cake, roscón de Reyes, is eaten.
The whole of Navidad (the Christmas period) is a celebration in Spain. On 22nd December, the country holds its collective breath as El Gordo, a big lottery draw takes place. And on 28th December, Spaniards celebrate their version of April Fools’ Day. On el día de los Santos Inocentes (Holy Innocents’ Day), las bromas (pranks) are played on los inocentes (victims), with newspapers and TV stations getting in on the act too!
In Germany, the main day for exchanging presents is der Heilige Abend (Christmas Eve). Children may receive presents from das Christkind (the Christ-child) or der Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas).
They may also receive presents on 6th December, Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day). The night before, children leave their shoes outside their doors and, if they’ve been good, in the morning they’ll find them filled with sweets and chocolate. However, if they’ve been naughty, they may instead receive eine Rute (a twig) as eine Bestrafung (punishment) from St. Nicholas’ sinister sidekick, Knecht Ruprecht.
Of course, when you think of Christmas in Germany, you think of the Christmas markets. And one of the things we love most about the German Christmas markets is the food! Christstollen (stollen – fruit bread, often containing marzipan), Lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread) and other Plätzchen (festive biscuits) are just some of the sweet treats you can look forward to if you’re planning on visiting.
Frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!Want some more Christmassy lesson ideas? We’ve created some FREE festive vocab posters, for you to deck your classroom with! These vocab posters will help your students tell you (in the target language, of course) about what they'll be getting up to this Christmas!
Want your students to experience Christmas in France, Germany, Spain or Italy? Why not arrange a language trip during December? Or even better - hit the Christmas markets!