Everyday conversations: Christmas traditions [audio]

An Advent calendar has a small gift that can be opened each day leading up to Christmas. (Flickr/Crazy House Capers)

Six students from around the world meet. What do they have in common? They are all exchange students studying at a U.S. university for a semester. Throughout the semester, they learn more English, learn about U.S. culture, and learn more about their fields of study. This series of Everyday Conversations is about these six students and their experiences during a semester at a university in the U.S. These conversations are for intermediate-level English-language learners or higher.

In this conversation, one student (Peter) discusses his family’s holiday traditions.

Peter: Lee, what are your plans for the winter break?

Lee: Ajay and I were invited to Alan’s house for the break. How about you? You’re going to volunteer at a school, right?

Peter: That’s right. But first I’m going to go home and spend Christmas with my family. It’s an important holiday for my family. We have lots of Christmas traditions.

Lee: Interesting. Like what?

Peter: Well, one of our traditions is also a tradition for some families in the U.S. — the Advent calendar.

Lee: What’s that?

Peter: It’s like a large card, with a picture on it. There’s also a small opening with a door for each day in December, up until Christmas. And each day, you open one of the doors. The best part is that behind the door is a piece of chocolate.

Lee: It’s a calendar with chocolate? That’s the best kind of calendar.

Peter: Some of them only have pictures, but my family gets the ones with chocolate. Another tradition is the Christmas market. In the local squares, there’s a market that sells food, drinks and local crafts.

Lee: That sounds great. I think there are some places in the U.S. that have Christmas markets too.

Peter: One different tradition is that we open presents on Christmas Eve. In the U.S., people usually open presents on Christmas.

Now let’s review the vocabulary.

A winter break is a period of vacation between semesters of college or other schools that includes the winter holidays, such as New Year’s Day.

To volunteer means to offer to do something without being paid to do it or without being asked.

Christmas (also Christmas Day) is a holiday of Christian origin that is recognized by many people in the United States, as well as in other parts of the world. It is celebrated on December 25. Some traditions of Christmas include decorating a Christmas tree, giving and receiving gifts, and spending time with family and friends.

A tradition is a belief, custom or way of doing something that has been used by a particular group of people for a long time.

An Advent calendar is a large decorated card used to count down the days until Christmas. For each day in December, up until Christmas, there is a small opening with a door. Children open one door each day. Behind each door is a picture or piece of chocolate.

A Christmas market is a street market where food, drink and products are bought and sold. These markets sell traditional food and drink for Christmas as well as local crafts. They are set up and open during the Christmas season.

In the conversation, a square means an open area in a town or city, often in the shape of a square (a shape with four equal sides).

Local: belonging to or relating to a particular area or place.

Crafts are objects that are skillfully made by hand.

Christmas Eve is December 24, the day before Christmas Day.

Ready to learn more English? Our materials can help.

The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily.

Everyday Conversations are developed by the State Department’s Heidi Howland, a senior program officer in the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.