Holiday Vocabulary Part One

For this week’s lesson, we’re going to explain the meanings of some important end-of-year cultural and religious holidays observed in the United States. Next week, we’ll discuss specific vocabulary words relating to these seasonal traditions.


If you need more help with holiday vocabulary or any other aspect of the English language, contact the English Island in Atlanta. Our caring, passionate ESL teachers can create a lesson plan that is tailored to your individual needs.



Let’s start with the word itself. A holiday is a special day of celebration or a day when most people do not have to work. Holiday is often used before a noun (holiday party, the holiday weekend, etc.). In American English, the holiday season or the holidays refer to the time from November until the beginning of January during which many holidays are celebrated. In British English, holiday has the same meaning as the American English word “vacation.” Wishing someone a “happy holidays” is a polite and inclusive way of expressing seasonal greetings.



Christmas is the Christian holiday that honors the birth of Jesus Christ and is traditionally celebrated on December 25th. In the United States, Canada, and much of the English-speaking world, Christmas is both a religious and a secular (non-religious) holiday. Except for restaurants and retail stores, most businesses are closed. Many people engage in Christmas traditions, including decorating Christmas trees and exchanging gifts, even if they do not follow the Christian faith themselves.



Hanukkah is an eight day Jewish holiday that is celebrated in either November or December. The exact dates vary from year to year because Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of month of Kislev of the traditional Hebrew calendar. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem following victory over Antiochus of Syria. Hanukkah is characterized chiefly by the lighting of the menorah (a special nine-branched candelabrum) on each day of the festival.



Kwanzaa is an African-American cultural festival held from December 26th to January 1st. The festival honors African heritage in African-American culture and ends with a feast and gift-giving. Because Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration and not a religious holiday, it is often celebrated alongside Christmas by Christians of African descent.