(Anti) Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine's Day!

This child has a hand injury from making too many cards. Image via Wikipedia.

Valentine’s Day is February 14th.  This is not a government holiday, but it is an excuse to have a party!  If you are celebrating in class, here are three ways the holiday can be celebrated in the United States:

1. Make Valentine’s Cards. Children often make Valentine’s cards for their classmates and exchange them at school.  Cards can say “be mine,” “you’re the best,” or “Will you be my Valentine?”

Children usually are required to give a card to every classmate, not just their friends.  Twenty or thirty cards– that’s a lot of writing.

If you are making cards in class, don’t forget to include one for your teacher.

2. Exchange candy or flowers.  Adults give flowers to loved ones, wives or husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends.  Roses are a popular flower for adults.  In middle schools and high schools, students often sell flowers as a fundraiser.  Carnations are often used for this activity because they can be dyed different colors: red means love, pink means “having a crush” on somebody, and white means friendship.  However, because Valentine’s Day is in February, it is winter and there are few natural flowers growing in most of the US, so exchanging them can be expensive.  An alternative is to exchange candy, like chocolates or candy hearts.

Want to know more?  Read about Valentine’s Day by the numbers.

3. Have an anti-Valentine’s party. People who reject the commercialization of the holiday sometimes have “Anti-Valentine’s” or “Lonely hearts” parties. Wearing black, avoiding flowers, candy, and love songs are appropriate activities for “anti-Valentine’s.”  But really it is just another excuse to have a party.  Here is an anti-Valentine’s Day video:

Here are some games for English class on Valentine’s Day.

Look at a Valentine’s picture dictionary and the play hangman or Simon Says.

Try this listening game for English learners.

Practice your Valentine’s Day vocabulary with this word search.

Winter traditions in the United States

Happy winter!  Today is the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere.  Religious celebrations for holidays like Hannukah and Christmas are here.  Here’s a look at Christmas traditions and winter traditions in the United States.

English: Christmas lights on a village street,...

Christmas lights on a house in New York. Image via Wikipedia

1. Lights.  It’s location in the Northern Hemisphere makes the days shorter and the nights longer in December.  On December 21st, the sun rises at 7:28 AM and sets at 5:24 PM in Phoenix, Arizona.  In New York, New York, the sun sets at 4:30 PM.  And in Anchorage, Alaska, the sun doesn’t rise until 10:14 AM and sets at 3:41 PM– that’s just five and a half hours of daylight.  It’s no coincidence that lights are an important winter tradition– for Hanukkah, for the winter solstice, and for Christmas.

2. Greens.  Taking trees and branches from plants that stay green all year, such as evergreen trees, pine trees, holly, and mistletoe, is a tradition borrowed from celebrations for the winter solstice.  By celebrating plants that do not die in winter, people encouraged the winter to go away, the sun to return, and the days to lengthen.  The most famous part of this tradition is the Christmas tree.  Some people cut down their own trees and some people buy pine trees or fur trees for their houses.  Traditional tree decorations include garlands, tinsel, glass balls, snowflakes, candles, angles, babies, stars, and candy canes.

Christmas tree

Decorations on a Christmas tree. Image via Wikipedia

3. Giving gifts.  Exchanging presents dates back to the ancient Roman feast called Saturnalia.  Gifts are an important part of celebrations for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.  It is also traditional for employers to give gifts to employees, coworkers to give gifts to each other, and students to give gifts to their teachers.  “Secret Snowflake” or “Secret Santa” gift exchanges, where each person in a group gives an anonymous present to somebody else, are popular.

4. Carols.  Caroling is the tradition of singing winter or holiday songs.  Sometimes people go from house to house singing for money.  Some songs, like “Jingle Bells” and “Let it snow” are about winter, some are about winter traditions like “Deck the Halls,” and some like “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” are about Christmas.

5. Food.  Traditional winter food and drink include hot chocolate, cookies, cakes, and pies.

Questions for conversation: Is it winter where you live?  What winter traditions are celebrated in your country?

What makes you grateful?

Tender, juicy roast turkey - the main attracti...

A traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Image via Wikipedia

Two-hundred forty-eight million turkeys.  Seven hundred fifty million pounds of cranberries. Two hundred sixty six point one million pounds of cherry tarts.  What do these large quantities of food have in common?  They are all traditional foods for the North American holiday Thanksgiving.  The quantities are forecasted production of each kind of food for the year 2011.  Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, when families share a large meal.  It is also celebrated on the second Monday in October in Canada.  Traditional dishes include turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkins, mashed potatoes, and pie.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth"...

An artist imagines what the first Thanksgiving looked like 300 years before. Image via Wikipedia

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American ate 13.3 pounds of turkey in 2009, and 5.3 pounds of sweet potatoes.  But the holiday is not only about food.  Its origins come from North American festivals to celebrate a good harvest in the autumn.  The “first Thanksgiving” was a festival held in Plymouth Colony (in what would later be called Massachusetts) in 1621, although similar festivals were also celebrated in other places in North America in other years.  U.S. President Abraham Lincoln made the holiday official in 1863.  Thanksgiving is about the food, but more than that, it is about being grateful for the food, and other good things in life as well.

Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation for positive things.  Gratitude is the good feeling you get when you are happy about the things you have.  To be grateful or to be thankful is to express gratitude.  On Thanksgiving, it is traditional to think about the things we are thankful for.

The spirit of Thanksgiving is reflected in the Look for the Good Project.  An artist collects postcards from around the country that answer the questionWhat makes you grateful?”  The postcards are published on the website for everyone to read.

Look through the postcards.  Where are they from?  What are people thankful for?  Do you see any similarities between the cards?

Find this image and others like it at http://lookforthegoodproject.org

Which card is your favorite?  Who do you think wrote it?  Why do you like this card?

Find this image and others like it at http://lookforthegoodproject.org

Thanksgiving vocabulary:

to be thankful / to be grateful
to give thanks

Questions for Conversation:

Do you have a special day to give thanks?

Do you have a special day to celebrate (and eat) with family?

What makes you grateful?  Tell us in a comment.  Then write your answer on postcard and send it to the Look for the Good Project.  Check the website to see if it is posted online.

Valentine’s Day by the numbers

Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950-1960

Valentine from the 1950s. Image via Wikipedia

Hearts, flowers, chocolates, and flying babies: it’s that time of year again. Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14The date was declared Saint Valentine’s Day by Pope Gelasius I in the year 496, in honor of a priest who had been executed on February 14.  In the Catholic religion, Saint Valentine is the patron saint of love, young people, and happy marriage.  (Is there a different patron saint for unhappy marriage?)

In some countries, Valentine’s Day is considered a “day of love and friendship,” but in the United States, the emphasis is on love and romance. The word Valentine also refers to heart-shaped cards exchanged by couples on this day.

Have a look at some common Valentine’s Day traditions in the United States, with some statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Flowers, cards and gifts
-Bouquets of flowers are a traditional Valentine’s Day gift, even though many parts of the U.S. are blanketed in snow at this time of year.

-In elementary schools, students exchange Valentine’s Day cards with their classmates.  Sometimes students make cards by hand, but normally they buy boxes of cards from the store.  Esther Howland, from the state of Massachusetts, is known as the first person to sell mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards in the 1840’s.

A bouquet of flowers.

Red, white, pink, and yellow roses. Image via Wikipedia

-In some schools, students buy flowers to give to classmates as a fundraiser.  Traditionally, white flowers mean friendship, pink indicate “a crush” and red symbolize love.

$80 is the price of 12 long-stemmed red roses from an online florist in the United States for Valentine’s Day.

18,509 was the number of florists in the United States in 2008.

$2.4 billion dollars was the amount of money spent on jewelery in the United States in February 2010.

$7 dollars is the price for a box of 32 classroom Valentine cards with envelopes included.

Conversation Hearts

Image by bethhaught via Flickr


-Chocolates and candy are traditional Valentine’s Day gifts.  “Conversation hearts,” small sugar hearts with messages in English, are very popular for Valentine’s Day.

24.3 pounds is the amount of candy per capita consumed by Americans in 2009.

Other traditions

$2.1 million is the number of marriages performed in the U.S. in 2009.

28.2 and 26.1 years were the average ages of men and women, respectively, on their first marriages.

54.1 was the percentage of adults in the United States who reported being married in 2009.

6% was the percentage of women in 2004 who had been married for at least 50 years.

Vocabulary for Valentine’s Day
secret admirer
“be mine”

Questions for conversation
Is Valentine’s Day celebrated where you live?
What traditions are popular on this day?
Do you think people should buy gifts to show love on Valentine’s Day?

And if you were thinking of getting somebody a gift, consult this infographic for its exact brillance or lameness:

Happy Groundhog Day

Groundhog (Marmota monax), Ottawa, Ontario

Do not be fooled by the sunny weather. If it sees its shadow, that means six more weeks of winter. Image via Wikipedia.

It’s Groundhog Day in the United States.  This holiday, celebrated every year on February 2nd, uses a small woodland creature to predict the weather.  According to legend, the groundhog emerges from its burrow on February 2nd.  If the weather is sunny, the groundhog will see its shadow, get scared, and return to its home.  The verdict: six more weeks of winter.  If the weather is cloudy, the groundhog will happily stay outside, meaning that spring is just around the corner.

It is unlikely that the groundhog will be scared this year.  Many places in the United States are suffering from a large blizzard.  If the groundhog cannot leave its home, it won’t see its shadow.  And if the groundhog doesn’t see its shadow, spring will arrive early.

Make your own predictions.

What will you do tomorrow if the weather is nice?

What will you do if the weather is terrible?

What will happen in 2011?  Use “if,” “will,” and “going to” when you talk about the future.


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