Explaining festivals and celebrations

Choose a festival/ celebration from below. Explain it in as much detail as you can so that a foreign person who doesn’t know much about your country would understand. Your partner will just listen. When you finish, your partner will add anything that you missed, add more details, correct anything that you said wrong and/ or ask questions. You can also ask them to do that with questions like “Did I miss anything?”/ “Is there anything else I should say?” Switch roles and do the same with other things below until your teacher stops you.

 

Suggested questions to ask about a festival or celebration

Are there any special superstitions/ special foods/ special clothes/…?

Do people (still)…?

How often…?

In your town/ area/ region/ prefecture/ ward/ county/ state/ country/…,…?

Is it true that…?

What do people eat/ do/ wear/…?

What do people use… for?

What does… mean?

What happens…?

What is (a)…?

What is special about…?

What is… called?

What is… made from?

What kind of food…?

What’s the difference between… and…?

When do people…?

Who do people do…?

Why do people…?

 

Ask about anything above which you couldn’t think of how to explain (well), working together as a whole class to explain that thing each time.


 

Japanese Xmas and New Year vocabulary British and American Xmas and New Year vocabulary
amazake

bounenkai

daruma

dondo-yaki

ekiden

fukubukuro

fukuwarai

hakama

hanetsuki/ hago-ita

hatsumode

joya-no-kane

kadomatsu

karuta

kazunoko

kimono

konbu

kouhaku uta-gassen

kurikinton

kuro-mame

mochi

mochi-tsuki

nenga-jo

omikuji

sechi-ryori

shiruko

toshi-dama

(o-)toso

zoni

saru-doshi

shichi-fuku-jin strawberry “short cake”

sugoroku

tai

takenoko

toshi-koshi-soba

advent calendar

Auld Lang Syne

baubles

brandy sauce

bread sauce

Brussel sprouts

candlelit service

(Xmas) carol

chestnuts

chocolate coins

Christmas crackers

cranberry sauce

custard

date

eggnog

fairy lights

fig

goose

gravy

holly

marzipan

midnight mass

mistletoe

mulled wine

nativity (scene)

nut roast

nutcrackers

office party

parsnip

raisin

roast

stuffing

sugared almonds

The Queen’s speech

tinsel

turkey

walnuts

winter ale

wreath

Xmas log

Xmas pudding

Xmas tree

 

 


 

Dezome-shiki

enkai/ nomikai

“Golden Week”

hanami

hina matsuri

Japanese Valentine’s Day/ “White Day”

Japanese-style wedding

kanreki

kodomo-no-hi

natsu matsuri (e.g. Gion matsuri)

nyugaku-shiki

o-bon

Pocky Day

Sapporo yuki matsuri

seijin no hi

setsubun

shichigosan

sotsuen-shiki

tanabata

Things related to festivals/ celebrations

(aka)-chochin

bento

bon-odori

butsudan/ kamidana

chimaki

chirashizushi

chitose-ame

e-ma

furisode

giri choco

gomokuzushi

jimbei

kakigori

kingyo-sukui

koi nobori

koma

mikoshi

nebuta

nihonshu

san-san-kudo

taiko

tako-yaki

teru-teru-bozu

tsunokakushi

yaki-soba

yukata

Other festivals and celebrations

All Saints Day/ (Mexican) Day of the Dead

April Fool’s Day

Armistice Day/ Remembrance Day/ War Memorial Day/ Poppy Day

Bonfire Night/ Guy Fawkes Night

Buddhist festivals

Carnival/ Mardi Gras/ Pancake Day

Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year

Constitution Day/ Independence Day

Diwali

Easter (Good Friday etc)/ Semana Santa

Eid (ul Fitr)

Emperor’s birthday/ King’s birthday/ Queen’s birthday

Gay Pride

Halloween

Hanukkah

Holi

Lent

May Day

Mother’s Day

National holidays/ Bank holidays

Oktoberfest

Ramadan

Running of the Bulls

Saint Patrick’s Day

Shrove Tuesday/ Pancake Day

Teacher’s Day

Thanksgiving

Tomato Throwing Festival

Valentine’s Day

 

 


Try to identify which Japanese festival or celebration, or thing related to one, is being described on each line below.

It’s a ceremony to mark the first day of school.

It’s a cherry blossom viewing party. People usually have a picnic, eating Japanese lunchboxes and drinking rice wine under the cherry blossom trees.

It’s a doll’s festival. Old-fashioned dolls are displayed in the house.

It’s a Japanese lunchbox.

It’s a kind of household shrine, usually with photos of your ancestors. You leave offerings of food and light joss sticks and candles there.

It’s a kind of Japanese carp flag, streamer or kite. It is flown on Children’s Day. The fish looks like it is swimming upstream, which means boys should persevere and not give up. Traditionally families have one for each boy in the family.

It’s a kind of light, summer kimono, like a dressing gown. It’s popular in hotels, hot springs and summer festivals.

It’s a kind of television singing competition, where the men and women are in different teams. It’s traditional New Year television.

It’s a New Year postcard. It’s sent out to many people who you know, similar to Christmas cards.

It’s a portable shrine, usually carried through the streets during summer festivals.

It’s coming of age day, which marks when young people become adults. The young people dress up smartly, often in traditional clothes, and have a ceremony at the town hall/ city hall.

It’s food eaten at New Year, often because it is lucky or has a lucky name.

It’s fried noodles, often sold at street stalls during summer festivals.

It’s shaved ice with sweet toppings, usually eaten at summer festivals.

It’s the first time when people go to a temple or shrine to pray in the New Year. People sometimes burn arrows to take away bad luck.

It’s the year of the monkey, which is one of the twelve years in the Chinese horoscope.

It’s the time when the spirits of your ancestors are supposed to come and visit, a bit like Halloween. People usually clean their ancestors’ graves.

People throw dried beans in their house to take away bad luck. Sometimes someone dresses up as a devil and people throw their beans at the devil. People are also supposed to eat one bean for each year of their lives.

The direct translation is “sweet rice wine”, but it isn’t alcoholic.

The literal translation is “forget the year party”. It’s held at the end of the year, often with colleagues.

Three-year-old, five-year-old and seven-year-old children dress up, usually in traditional clothes, and go to a temple to be blessed.

It’s a kind of chewy, very filling rice cake, made from sticky rice.

It’s a Japanese drum, often a very large one.

It’s a traditional spinning top, spun with a piece of string.

It’s an envelope of money, given as a gift at New Year.

It’s a piece of paper which tells you your fortune for the coming year.

It’s sometimes translated as “drinking party”, but it’s more like just going out for drinks.

It’s a period in late spring with many public holidays near each other.

Similar to a few other countries like South Korea, on this day Japanese men give gifts, preferably of higher value, to women who they received Valentine chocolates from.


Suggested answers

nyugakushiki

hanami

hinamatsuri

bento

butsudan/ kamidana

koi-nobori

yukata

kouhaku uta-gassen

nengajo

mikoshi

seijin-no-hi

sechi-ryori

yaki soba

kakigori

hatsumode

sarudoshi

o-bon

setsubun

amazake

bounenkai

shichigosan

mochi

taiko

koma

toshidama

o-mikuji

nomi-kai

“Golden Week”

“White Day”

 

Without looking above, work together to describe all of the things above. There are many different ways of explaining each thing.

 

Underline useful language for describing festivals and celebrations and things associated with them in the descriptions above. Not every sentence has useful language to underline, and some have more than one useful thing to underline. Then brainstorm more generally useful language for this purpose.

 

Compare your ideas with the list below. Ask about anything you couldn’t use or understand, making a statement using it each time.

 

 

It’s a ceremony to mark the first day of school. – nyugakushiki

It’s a cherry blossom viewing party. People usually have a picnic, eating Japanese lunchboxes and drinking rice wine under the cherry blossom trees. – hanami

It’s a doll’s festival. Old-fashioned dolls are displayed in the house. – hinamatsuri

It’s a Japanese lunchbox. – bento

It’s a kind of household shrine, usually with photos of your ancestors. You leave offerings of food and light joss sticks and candles there. – butsudan/ kamidana

It’s a kind of Japanese carp flag, streamer or kite. It is flown on Children’s Day. The fish looks like it is swimming upstream, which means boys should persevere and not give up. Traditionally families have one for each boy in the family. – koi-nobori

It’s a kind of light, summer kimono, like a dressing gown. It’s popular in hotels, hot springs and summer festivals. – yukata

It’s a kind of television singing competition, where the men and women are in different teams. It’s traditional New Year television. – kouhaku uta-gassen

It’s a New Year postcard. It’s sent out to many people who you know, similar to Christmas cards. – nengajo

It’s a portable shrine, usually carried through the streets during summer festivals. – mikoshi

It’s coming of age day, which marks when young people become adults. The young people dress up smartly, often in traditional clothes, and have a ceremony at the town hall/ city hall. – seijin-no-hi

It’s food eaten at New Year, often because it is lucky or has a lucky name. – sechi-ryori

It’s fried noodles, often sold at street stalls during summer festivals. – yaki soba

It’s shaved ice with sweet toppings, usually eaten at summer festivals. – kakigori

It’s the first time when people go to a temple or shrine to pray in the New Year. People sometimes burn arrows to take away bad luck.  – hatsumode

It’s the year of the monkey, which is one of the twelve years in the Chinese horoscope. – sarudoshi

It’s the time when the spirits of your ancestors are supposed to come and visit, a bit like Halloween. People usually clean their ancestors’ graves. – o-bon

People throw dried beans in their house to take away bad luck. Sometimes someone dresses up as a devil and people throw their beans at the devil. People are also supposed to eat one bean for each year of their lives. – setsubun

The direct translation is “sweet rice wine”, but it isn’t alcoholic. – amazake

The literal translation is “forget the year party”. It’s held at the end of the year, often with colleagues. – bounenkai

Three-year-old, five-year-old and seven-year-old children dress up, usually in traditional clothes, and go to a temple to be blessed. – shichigosan

It’s a kind of chewy, very filling rice cake, made from sticky rice. – mochi

It’s a Japanese drum, often a very large one. – taiko

It’s a traditional spinning top, spun with a piece of string. – koma

It’s an envelope of money, given as a gift at New Year. – toshidama

It’s a piece of paper which tells you your fortune for the coming year. – o-mikuji

It’s sometimes translated as “drinking party”, but it’s more like just going out for drinks.

It’s a period in late spring with many public holidays near each other.

Similar to a few other countries like South Korea, on this day Japanese men give gifts, preferably of higher value, to women who they received Valentine chocolates from.


Useful language for describing festivals and celebrations

Use similar words to describe other festivals and celebrations, e.g. those in other countries, e.g. British traditions or Chinese festivals.

ancestors

bad luck

bamboo

(formal) banquet

blessing

blossom

to bow

bride

burn/ light

buy

candles

candy/ sweets

card/ postcard

carp

ceremony

chewy rice cake

Chinese horoscope/ Chinese astrology

colleagues/ co-workers

coming of age

cream cake

decorate/ decoration

devil/ demon

display

dress up

extended family

fireworks/ sparklers

flag

flowers

gift/ present

give a speech

good luck

grave

groom

holiday/ public holiday

household shrine

joss sticks

lucky charm

lucky food

kite

made from/ made of

mandarin/ satsuma/ tangerine

mask

myth

New Year’s Day/ New Year’s Eve

offering

office party

official…

party

party poppers

picnic

pine needles

portable shrine

pray

public holiday/ national holiday

raise a toast

religious…

replace

(Japanese) rice wine

romantic

share

shrine

special dish

spirits/ ghosts

spring cleaning

stay up

street food

stall/ street stall

superstition

(Buddhist) temple

traditional clothes/ traditional footwear

traditional game/ traditional sport

traditional music

visit

watch

wear

wedding reception

wish for

Useful phrases for giving translations and explaining meanings

The direct (= literal) translation is…/ Translated word for word it would be…

The normal (= usual) translation for this is…

Although there’s no obvious translation, it could be explained as…

It can be translated as…

In Japan we say this when (we are talking about)…

This is often explained as…

This means (something like)…

Useful phrases for comparing different countries

It has something in common with… but…

It’s a bit like/ something like (the British/ American/ Chinese/ Korean/…) but…

It’s similar to… in (name of country).

This also exists in China/ Korea/ most Asian countries/…

This only exists in Japan (and a couple of other countries) and is…


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