The Melbourne Cup and other odd cultural events

Last week, as I was walking through the lunch room, a Japanese student who had discovered that I was Australian stopped me to ask about the Melbourne Cup.  She’d just come from a visit to Australia and wanted verification that it was true.  My answers were yes, there is a public holiday in Melbourne and Canberra for a horse race; yes, the whole country stops working to watch that horse race; yes women throughout the country get dressed up in cocktail dresses and hats/ fascinators; yes, there are long champagne-fueled lunches everywhere to watch the horse race; and yes, pretty much everyone in the country bets on the race. 

Of course I’m aware that to any non-Australian this seems like national lunacy!  But it made me think of other cultural events that countries have that hold curiosity value for others.  Grown people dressing as zombies and parading through the streets of lower Manhattan at Halloween could qualify, perhaps :-). 

 As an ESOL teacher, I think that these cultural events are wonderful opportunities for lessons about culture, but using all four skills, some new vocabulary and even reinforcement of grammar.  I can remember doing a reading lesson practicing scanning skills with the descriptions of the horses that were in the newspaper, a Dictogloss using a news report about the race, and a grammar review game simulating a horse race, and of course culminating in having my students share the cultural experience by actually watching the horse race that stops a nation. 

I wonder what holiday-themed lessons any of you have done?  Feel free to share any ideas you have …

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