Here in Turkey we are celebrating what in Turkish is called “Kurban Bayram” (Eid al-Adha). This four day holiday remembers God’s provision of a sacrifice as a substitute for Abraham’s son. Hundreds of thousands of rams and bulls have been ritually killed, their meat divided into portions, some to keep and much to give away to those in need. You can learn more about this holiday HERE.
Holidays present a unique opportunity for language learners. In America the Christmas season is fast approaching and I will assume that the marketing mayhem has already begun – Walmart has decked the halls, the local mall is playing Bing Crosby round the clock and suburban dads have been sent up to the attic to retrieve the lights.
Holidays are of course talked about with words – words the vast majority of a nation share as they talk about their holiday. And so we should work to learn all of these words and expressions. There is also a shared history that is passed down through textbooks and everyday experience.
If we were just to learn these words and expressions and a bit of the history of how a nation celebrates her holidays however, we would indeed know something about the holiday and be able to talk about it in the target language. But really that would leave us with a fairly generic understanding and rob us of the opportunity to hear the stories of what a holiday means to individuals in the culture. Because no matter what Wikipedia or our text book tells us about the holiday, they cannot capture the deep emotional connections we make in celebrating as families each year.
Christmas in my home town for example was celebrated differently by nearly every classmate I went to school with. Each has special memories of their own family’s traditions. Each celebrated for different reasons. Some celebrated the birth of Jesus. Some just took advantage of a break from school or work to get together with family. Some revel in the marketing of the holiday going into deep credit card debt each December. Others, like myself, lean more toward an advent conspiracy.
I want to encourage you to explore holidays as individual family events that mark the culture of a nation. Listen to the stories. Ask about personal memories, family traditions and personal beliefs. If you rely on a Wikipedia entry for your information about a nation’s holidays, you will learn some information about it. But you won’t hear the story.
And so I want to encourage you to take advantage of the natural opportunity to hear personal stories the next time a holiday comes across the calendar.
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