Reading Comprehension Text and Exercises

Unique Holidays People Celebrate Around the World


Holidays are special days for the people of one nation or culture, which are set aside by the law or through a custom, and on which everyday activities, such as work or school, are normally suspended.

Every country has several important holidays, which can be national – or important for the state, religious – important for a particular religious group, or simply cultural – such as celebrating the beginning of a season, for example.

Thanksgiving, the United States (US)

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Thanksgiving, the United States (US)

Thanksgiving is one of the most popular and oldest holidays in the US, celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It originated as a harvest festival, and was celebrated for the first time by the Pilgrims in 1621. That particular feast lasted for three days, and was attended by Native Americans as well.

The holiday became known as the day of thanking God for blessings such as a good harvest, plenty of food or a military victory, but today it is more cultural than religious.

Although it is debatable whether the Pilgrims ate it at the time, turkey has become the most ubiquitous food served on Thanksgiving. Other traditional foods are mashed potato, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.


Three Kings Day, Mexico

Mexican people traditionally celebrate Christmas for twelve days – from Christmas evening on December 24th, to the Three Kings Day on January 6th (also called the Epiphany. Epiphany literally means a sudden moment of understanding).

The Three Kings Day commemorates the end of these celebrations. This holiday was inspired by the biblical story of the three kings from the East (also referred to as three Wise Men or Magi), who spotted a bright star in the sky the night Jesus was born, and came to see baby Jesus.

This holiday is so important for Mexicans that they often give additional gifts on this day, even though it is shortly after Christmas.

Another custom specific for this holiday is baking the Rosca, a sweet bread ring in which a small baby Jesus figurine is placed. Whoever finds the figurine has to host another holiday's party in February.


Chinese New Year, China

Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday in China, occurring on the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, which does not coincide with the December 31st, but instead falls between January 21st and February 20th.

The celebrations are held all over the country and normally last for two weeks, making it the longest festival in China.

During the celebrations, you can see incredible decorations such as dragons, lanterns, flowers, as well as fireworks and people dressed in traditional Chinese clothing. Windows and doors are usually decorated with red color papercuts to symbolize good fortune, wealth and longevity.

This festival honors both Chinese deities (gods) and historical figures.


Saint Patrick's Day, Ireland

Although originally Irish, Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated all over the world on March 17th. It has both a cultural and a religious connotation, since it is named after Saint Patrick, the greatest patron saint of Ireland who brought Christianity to the island, and it is also a celebration of Irish culture and heritage.

Since Irish people emigrated to other European countries, as well as to the United States, Saint Patrick is celebrated in more countries than any other national holiday.

It is normally manifested through a public parade, with many visitors wearing green attire, since this color is the symbol of Ireland. Historically, any religious restrictions on eating and drinking were lifted on this particular day, which is why Saint Patrick's Day is heavily celebrated with lots of beer.


Setsubun, Japan

This holiday marks the beginning of spring in Japan. It is celebrated on February 3rd as a part of the Spring Festival. The holiday is also known as the Bean Throwing Day, because of the custom of throwing roasted soybeans out the door while chanting 'In with Fortune! Out with Evil!'.

It is believed that such a ceremony prevents evil ogres (monsters) from entering the house, and that instead only good fortune will come to the family.

This is why during the ceremony, one member of the family wears an ogre mask. Another peculiar tradition done on this day suggests that if you want to enjoy a year of good health, you should eat the same number of soybeans as your age.


Comprehension Exercises

Vocabulary Questions

  1. What does "connotation" mean?
    1. the process of celebrating a religious holiday
    2. the associated or secondary meaning of a word
    3. the expressions people chant

  2. What does "ubiquitous" mean?
    1. existing or being everywhere
    2. practiced by a small group of people
    3. of a complex structure

  3. What does "longevity" mean?
    1. long dinner
    2. long holiday
    3. long life

  4. What does "ancestor" mean?
    1. a relative who lived long time ago
    2. an important political figure
    3. the future generation

  5. What does "peculiar" mean?
    1. narrow-minded
    2. very specific, detailed
    3. different from what is expected, strange


Collocation Questions

  1. The Japanese throw roasted soybeans __________ the door to scare away the ogre.
    1. away from
    2. off
    3. out

  2. The Chinese calendar does not __________ with the one Americans use.
    1. coexist
    2. equate
    3. coincide

  3. Saint Patrick's Day is a celebration of Irish __________.
    1. heritage
    2. characteristics
    3. birthright

  4. The Chinese decorate windows and doors __________ red papercuts.
    1. of
    2. with
    3. in

  1. It is __________ whether the Pilgrims ate turkey in 1621.
    1. doubtful
    2. debatable
    3. dubious

  1. The Three Kings Day was __________ by a biblical story.
    1. motivated
    2. incited
    3. inspired

  1. School classes are normally __________ on Thanksgiving.
    1. prevented
    2. hanged
    3. suspended

  2. The Japanese __________ while they are throwing soybeans.
    1. carol
    2. chant
    3. cry

  3. Saint Patrick's Day is __________ celebrated with beer.
    1. heavily
    2. steadily
    3. stiffly

  4. According to the legend, the three kings __________ a bright star on the sky.
    1. situated
    2. spotted
    3. recognized


Wh Questions

  1. What do Irish people usually drink on Saint Patrick's Day?
    1. whiskey
    2. wine
    3. beer

  2. Who inspired the Three Kings holiday?
    1. three kings from the Bible
    2. three Spanish kings
    3. three kings from a children's book

  3. Where do the Japanese throw soybeans during the ceremony?
    1. at the main square
    2. in schools
    3. in their houses

  4. Why did the Pilgrims start celebrating Thanksgiving?
    1. to thank their children for being kind
    2. to thank God for a good harvest
    3. to thank the British for sending them to the US

  1. How do Chinese people decorate their windows and doors to celebrate the Chinese New Year?
    1. with green and yellow lanterns
    2. with colorful balloons
    3. with red papercuts


Evaluating Statements

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is true?
    1. The Candelaria party is hosted by those who cannot find the figurine in the sweetbread.
    2. The Candelaria party is hosted by the person who finds the figurine in the sweetbread.

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is false?
    1. When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving, they did not invite any Native Americans.
    2. Native Americans were invited to the first Thanksgiving in 1621.


True or False?

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

    "Chinese New Year does not have any religious connotation, but it only celebrates historical people."
    1. True
    2. False

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

    "If a 40 year-old woman eats 40 soybeans on Setsubun, she will have a year of good health."
    1. True
    2. False


Answer Key

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


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