Reading Comprehension Text and Exercises

Interesting Festivals around the World


Festivals have been organized for thousands of years. A festival is an event celebrated by a particular community, or the entire country, and it is centered on some particular tradition.

Most, but not all festivals serve to provide entertainment to the participants, so they tend to be complemented with music or dance. The majority of festivals are religious or based on folklore.

Lantern Festival

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A Brief History of Festivals

  • Both ancient Greeks and Romans celebrated festivals, many of which were associated with political processes and social organization. One such festival was Saturnalia, which Romans organized in honor of god Saturn. Saturnalia was traditionally celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, followed by a public banquet and a carnival.
  • Another early festival was established by an ancient Egyptian pharaoh (leader) in order to celebrate his victory over the Libyans.
  • Considering the importance of food for every community, many festivals originate as agricultural ceremonies, initially organized to either celebrate a good harvest, or hope for it. In the Alps, for instance, the return of the cattle from the mountain is celebrated at the Almabtrieb festival.
  • Recently, the arts festivals took over all other kinds of festivals, as now every major city has at least one music festival, in addition to theater, literary, science and film festivals.
  • Nearly all modern festivals are not contained to the local community anymore, but are open for guests and tourists, who are expected to behave as the locals do and respect their traditions.


Holi, India

One of the oldest Indian festivals Holi is celebrated as a symbol of good over evil, the arrival of spring and the end of winter. Also known as the Festival of Colors, this event lasts for a night and a day, starting in the evening of a Full Moon Day, normally in February or March.

Holi celebrations begin with a performance of religious rituals in front of a big bonfire, hoping that the prayers will destroy the internal evil. In the morning, people smear each other with colors, using powder, water guns and water-filled balloons. Holi has become so popular that it is also celebrated in other Southeast Asian countries.


Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Brazil

The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is the biggest carnival in the world, dating back to 1723. With more than 2 million people on the streets every single day, this carnival parade offers a real spectacle. Held just before Lent starts, the festival officially lasts from Friday night until Wednesday morning, but many Brazilians continue celebrating for a few days more.

A typical parade includes happy revelers, colorful floats, as well as performances by samba schools – groups of local people dancing. The most famous dance is, of course, samba, a traditional Brazilian dance influenced by African traditions. Each year, the Queen of the Carnival and up to two princesses are pronounced publicly.


Pingxi Lantern Festival, Taiwan

Having started in 1990, this is a relatively young festival, celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, at the very end of the Chinese New Year. Inspired by traditional folklore, this ceremony lasts whole night, when thousands of sky lanterns light over the Pingxi District in Taiwan. The lanterns are released to ward off the evil and let people know the town is safe.

The main lanterns are always over ten meters tall and they normally reflect Chinese zodiac signs. Each of them has its own theme music, which makes the whole performances even more magical. In addition to the main lanterns, there are also hundreds of smaller ones, usually carried by children. These lanterns portray images of historical figures or a specific theme.


La Tomatina, Spain

The biggest tomato fight you will ever see happens every year on the last Wednesday of August in Bunol near Valencia, Spain. Since 1945, La Tomatina participants have traditionally been throwing tomatoes at each other purely for entertainment purposes.

History suggests that the event started by accident – by youngsters attending the Gigantes y Cabezudos festival with enormous figures with big heads. They grabbed some tomatoes from a nearby stall and threw them at one of the giant figures who accidentally fell down.

The next year, these same young people came back with their own tomatoes and started a tomato fight. Today, La Tomatina is so popular that tomatoes are delivered in big trucks for thousands of people from all over the world.


Comprehension Exercises

Vocabulary Questions

  1. What does "reveler" mean?
    1. person disapproving of the party
    2. person passing by
    3. person enjoying themselves in a lively way

  2. What does "Lent" mean?
    1. period during which food is restricted for religious purposes
    2. delicious vegetable dish made with lentils
    3. traditional carnival season in South America

  3. What does "stall" mean?
    1. old house normally used as a museum
    2. stand, compartment where goods are sold
    3. giant figure

  4. What does "sacrifice" mean?
    1. dancing by the fire to honor the gods
    2. offering something to the gods, normally killing an animal
    3. religious ceremony held every year for Christmas

  5. What does "smear" mean?
    1. carefully distribute
    2. mark something messily with a substance
    3. fire a weapon from a long distance


Collocation Questions

  1. Thousands of sky lanterns _________ over the Pingxi District.
    1. light
    2. shine
    3. glow

  2. The Queen of the Carnival is _________ pronounced each year.
    1. nationally
    2. universally
    3. publicly

  3. People throw tomatoes at each other for _________ purposes.
    1. entertainment
    2. comedy
    3. pleasure

  4. Holi celebrations begin with a performance of religious _________.
    1. observances
    2. rituals
    3. manifestations

  1. The lanterns are released to ward _________ the evil.
    1. out
    2. away
    3. off

  1. Saturnalia was celebrated in _________ of god Saturn.
    1. glory
    2. honor
    3. merit

  1. Holi is a celebration of good _________ evil.
    1. above
    2. over
    3. on top of

  2. Festivals are not _________ to local populations anymore.
    1. restrained
    2. held
    3. contained

  3. The lanterns often portray images of _________ figures.
    1. past
    2. historical
    3. bygone

  4. A festival is an event _________ some particular tradition.
    1. centered on
    2. circled around
    3. pointed to


Wh Questions

  1. Where do the participants of La Tomatina get their tomatoes?
    1. from local kiosks
    2. from trucks
    3. from home

  2. Why do people pray on the first night of the Holi festival?
    1. they have health problems
    2. they wish for a prosperous year
    3. they hope it will destroy the evil

  3. Who usually carries smaller lanterns at the Pingxi Festival?
    1. musicians
    2. tourists
    3. children

  4. When is the Rio Carnival held?
    1. before Lent
    2. on Christmas
    3. right after Brazilian Thanksgiving

  1. How was Saturnalia celebrated?
    1. by walking on fire
    2. with fireworks
    3. with a sacrifice and a banquet


Evaluating Statements

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is true?
    1. Officially, the Carnival in Rio lasts for a week.
    2. Officially, the Carnival in Rio is less than a week long.

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is false?
    1. The Pingxi Festival was inspired by a similar festival in the U.S.
    2. The Pingxi Festival was inspired by Taiwanese folklore.


True or False?

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "La Tomatina started when a group of youngsters had a plan to sell tomatoes."
    1. True
    2. False

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "Although the Holi festival starts in the evening, people don't start smearing each other with colors until morning."
    1. True
    2. False


Answer Key

1. C | 2. A | 3. B | 4. B | 5. B | 6. A | 7. C | 8. A | 9. B | 10. C | 11. B | 12. B | 13. C | 14. B| 15. A | 16. B | 17. C | 18. C | 19. A | 20. C |21. B | 22. A | 23. B | 24. A


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