Festive teaching: Christmas in TEFL destinations

Being away from home in the big wide world for the festive period can be hard, especially for those newly-qualified TEFL teachers who’ve only just broken out of the comfort zone for a life of grammar lessons and explorations on the road. However, Christmas in TEFL destinations can also be darn fun! Yep, with a kaleidoscope of different traditions and customs to sink your teeth into (sometimes literally), there are plenty of new and exciting Yuletide treats in store. Check them out…

China’s Sheng Dan Jieh

No discussion of Christmas in TEFL destinations could ignore one of the biggest EFL markets on the planet: China. This vast country of over one billion people might not be overwhelmingly Christian in faith, but there’s still a significant contingent of an estimated eight million folks who attend church regularly. That translates into the festive period of Sheng Dan Jieh in December, which sees the usual pine trees decorating homes, all lit up in twinkling fairy lights, along with swinging red paper chains and red lanterns (red is thought to symbolize good will and enjoyment). In bigger cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, you’re also bound to spot the usual festive lights and paraphernalia in the department stores and streets – you never know, it could feel just like home!

Chocolates and carp in Poland

Christmas in Poland starts early, with the celebrations of Mikołajki on the 6th of December (a date that’s also an important part of the advent calendar in other countries across eastern Europe and Catholic and Orthodox states). This is when children all over the snow-dusted nation wake up to presents and selection boxes of chocolate, and when the gift-giver Santa Clause is thought to deliver his goods. And while that’s perfect for those who simply can’t wait to receive their presents on the big day, there are more parties waiting on the 24th. Yep, Christmas Eve is the day of the big feast, which is when local families cook up traditional carp dishes with sauerkraut and stew, pickled veg and piles of beetroot. We hope you brought an appetite!

The Posadas of Mexico

A heart-warming tradition amidst this list of the various customs of Christmas in TEFL destinations, the Posada processions of Mexico are sure to cheer even the most homesick of teachers – and not least of all because of the scorching, beach-worthy weather that dominates in December! These charming rituals are performed by local children over a series of 12 days leading up to Christmas. It sees groups of kids flitting from house to house to perform carol songs in honor of Joseph and Mary’s search of somewhere to sleep in Bethlehem. The houses are decorated with evergreen trees and lights too, and the culmination of the period comes with the big piñata parties on Christmas Eve (yea, that does mean whacking a papier-mâché toy with a baseball bat – what more could you want?).

Solemn masses and oodles of tapas in Spain

Spanish Christmas is unsurprisingly heavy on the Catholic ritual. One of the main traditions is the Mass of the Rooster, which is held at midnight on Christmas Eve in the local churches. Folk gather to see the turning of the clock to Christmas Day, and then return home to enjoy a huge smorgasbord of traditional foods, ranging from truffle-packed turkey to salty seafood fresh from the Atlantic – that is, if they haven’t opted to eat earlier in the day! Meanwhile, the gap between Christmas and New Year is riddled with other saintly days, like the 28th December, which is Spain’s version of April Fools – be prepared to be tricked and tricked again by your students!

Thailand is sun and parties

Okay, so while Thailand might not have the deep-set Yuletide traditions of a number of the other places on this list (although there are some), it does offer something that can make Christmas in TEFL destinations all the more bearable: sun. Yep, Thailand is in the midst of its best high season from the months of November to March, which means dry days and top temperatures for any teachers eager to escape the classroom for a spot of sunbathing on the beaches of Koh Samui or Phi Phi in the Andaman. And then comes New Year: a mega blowout of epic proportions, with fire shows and an estimated 80,000 revelers a year when it comes to the infamous Full Moon parties…


Are a veteran TEFL teacher who’s spent plenty of festive periods away from home? Where have you enjoyed the most, and which Christmas in TEFL destinations do you remember most fondly? We’d love to hear about it all in the comments below…

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