Christmas Eve

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Christmas Eve
Julaftonen by Carl Larsson 1904 edit.jpg
Julaftonen (Christmas Eve), a 1904–05 watercolor painting by Carl Larsson
Also calledChristmas Evening
Christmas Vigil
Day before Christmas
Night before Christmas
Observed byChristians
Many non-Christians [1]
Type Christian, cultural
SignificanceDay or evening preceding the traditional birthday of Jesus
ObservancesGift shopping, gift giving, goodwill greetings, Midnight Mass, other church services, meals, preparations for the arrival of Christmas gift-bringers, preparing for Christmas
Date24 December (Western Churches and Eastern Orthodox churches that use the Revised Julian Calendar), 5 January (Armenian Apostolic Church), 6 January (Eastern Orthodox Churches that follow the Old Julian Calendar and most Oriental Orthodox Churches), 18 January (Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem) [2] [3] [4]
Related to Christmas Day, Christmastide, New Year's Eve

Christmas Eve is the evening or entire day before Christmas Day, the festival commemorating the birth of Jesus. [5] Christmas Day is observed around the world, and Christmas Eve is widely observed as a full or partial holiday in anticipation of Christmas Day. Together, both days are considered one of the most culturally significant celebrations in Christendom and Western society.

Christmas holiday originating in Christianity, usually celebrated on December 25 (in the Gregorian or Julian calendars)

Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the world. A feast central to the Christian liturgical year, it is preceded by the season of Advent or the Nativity Fast and initiates the season of Christmastide, which historically in the West lasts twelve days and culminates on Twelfth Night; in some traditions, Christmastide includes an octave. Christmas Day is a public holiday in many of the world's nations, is celebrated religiously by a majority of Christians, as well as culturally by many non-Christians, and forms an integral part of the holiday season centered around it.

Nativity of Jesus Birth of Jesus

The nativity of Jesus or birth of Jesus is described in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. The two accounts differ, but agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the reign of King Herod the Great, his mother Mary was married to a man named Joseph, who was descended from King David and was not his biological father, and that his birth was caused by divine intervention.

Jesus in Christianity Jesus in Christianity

In Christianity, Jesus is believed to be the Son of God and in many mainstream denominations the second Person of the Trinity. Christians believe that through his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, God offered humans salvation and eternal life. He is believed to be the Jewish messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity. These teachings emphasize that as the Lamb of God, Jesus chose to suffer on the cross at Calvary as a sign of his obedience to the will of God, as an "agent and servant of God". Jesus died to atone for sin to make us right with God. Jesus' choice positions him as a man of obedience, in contrast to Adam's disobedience.


Christmas celebrations in the denominations of Western Christianity have long begun on the night of the 24th, due in part to the Christian liturgical day starting at sunset, [6] a practice inherited from Jewish tradition [7] and based on the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis: "And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day." [8] Many churches still ring their church bells and hold prayers in the evening; for example, the Nordic Lutheran churches. [9] Since tradition holds that Jesus was born at night (based in Luke 2:6-8), Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve, traditionally at midnight, in commemoration of his birth. [10] The idea of Jesus being born at night is reflected in the fact that Christmas Eve is referred to as Heilige Nacht (Holy Night) in German, Nochebuena (the Good Night) in Spanish and similarly in other expressions of Christmas spirituality, such as the song "Silent Night, Holy Night".

Western Christianity Religious category composed of the Latin Church, Protestantism, and their derivatives

Western Christianity is a branch of Christianity, composed of the Latin Church and Protestantism, together with their offshoots such as Independent Catholicism and Restorationism. The large majority of the world's 2.1 billion Christians are Western Christians. The original and still major part, the Latin Church, developed under the bishop of Rome in the former Western Roman Empire in Antiquity. Out of the Latin Church emerged a wide variety of independent Protestant denominations, including Lutheranism and Anglicanism, starting from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, as did Independent Catholicism in the 19th century. Thus, the term "Western Christianity" does not describe a single communion or religious denomination, but is applied to distinguish all these denominations collectively from Eastern Christianity.

Genesis creation narrative Creation myth of both Judaism and Christianity

The Genesis creation narrative is the creation myth of both Judaism and Christianity. The narrative is made up of two stories, roughly equivalent to the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. In the first, Elohim creates the heavens and the Earth in six days, then rests on, blesses and sanctifies the seventh. In the second story, God, now referred to by the personal name Yahweh, creates Adam, the first man, from dust and places him in the Garden of Eden, where he is given dominion over the animals. Eve, the first woman, is created from Adam and as his companion.

Book of Genesis first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament

The Book of Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament, is Judaism's account of the creation of the world and the origins of the Jewish people.

Many other varying cultural traditions and experiences are also associated with Christmas Eve around the world, including the gathering of family and friends, the singing of Christmas carols, the illumination and enjoyment of Christmas lights, trees, and other decorations, the wrapping, exchange and opening of gifts, and general preparation for Christmas Day. Legendary Christmas gift-bearing figures including Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkind, and Saint Nicholas are also often said to depart for their annual journey to deliver presents to children around the world on Christmas Eve, although until the Protestant introduction of Christkind in 16th-century Europe, [11] such figures were said to instead deliver presents on the eve of Saint Nicholas' feast day (6 December).

Christmas carol Song or hymn or carol on the theme of Christmas

A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas, and which is traditionally sung on Christmas itself or during the surrounding holiday season. Christmas carols may be regarded as a subset of the broader category of Christmas music.

Santa Claus Folkloric figure, said to deliver gifts to children on Christmas Eve

Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, or simply Santa, is a legendary figure originating in Western Christian culture who is said to bring gifts to the homes of well-behaved children on the night of Christmas Eve and the early morning hours of Christmas Day. The modern Santa Claus grew out of traditions surrounding the historical Saint Nicholas, the British figure of Father Christmas and the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas. Some maintain Santa Claus also absorbed elements of the Germanic god Wodan, who was associated with the pagan midwinter event of Yule and led the Wild Hunt, a ghostly procession through the sky.

Father Christmas Christmas-associated figure originating in England

Father Christmas is the traditional English name for the personification of Christmas. Although now known as a Christmas gift-bringer, and normally considered to be synonymous with American culture's Santa Claus which is now known worldwide, he was originally part of an unrelated and much older English folkloric tradition. The recognisably modern figure of the English Father Christmas developed in the late Victorian period, but Christmas had been personified for centuries before then.

Religious traditions

Western churches

Midnight Mass is held in many churches toward the end of Christmas Eve, often with dim lighting and traditional decorative accents such as greenery Midnight Mass 2010 - 66 (5292245955).jpg
Midnight Mass is held in many churches toward the end of Christmas Eve, often with dim lighting and traditional decorative accents such as greenery

Roman Catholics and high church Anglicans traditionally celebrate Midnight Mass, which begins either at or sometime before midnight on Christmas Eve. This ceremony, which is held in churches throughout the world, celebrates the birth of Christ, which is believed to have occurred at night. Midnight Mass is popular in Poland (pasterka).

Midnight Mass

In many Western Christian traditions Midnight Mass is the first liturgy of Christmastide that is celebrated on the night of Christmas Eve, traditionally beginning at midnight when Christmas Eve gives way to Christmas Day. This popular Christmas custom is a jubilant celebration of the Mass or Service of Worship in honour of the Nativity of Jesus; even many of those Christian denominations that do not regularly employ the word "Mass" uniquely use the term "Midnight Mass" for their Christmas Eve liturgy.

Pasterka midnight mass celebrated during Christmas between 24 and 25 December by Roman Catholics across Poland

Pasterka is a Midnight mass celebrated by Roman Catholics during Christmas between 24 and 25 December across Poland. A close translation of the name would be the "Shepherds' Mass", in reference to the Biblical shepherds, who were visited by an angel and told of the birth of Christ. During the Pasterka Mass, Polish people sing traditional kolędy, Christmas carols from the Roman calendae) in the spirit of joy.

In recent years some churches have scheduled their "Midnight" Mass as early as 7 pm. This better suits the young children, whose choral singing has become a popular feature in some traditions. In Spanish-speaking areas, the Midnight Mass is sometimes referred to as Misa de Gallo , or Missa do Galo in Portuguese ("Rooster's Mass"). In the Philippines, the custom has expanded into the nine-day Simbang Gabi , when Filipinos attend dawn Masses (traditionally beginning around 04:00 to 05:00 PST) from 16 December, continuing daily until Christmas Eve. In 2009 Vatican officials scheduled the Midnight Mass to start at 10 pm so that the 82-year-old Pope Benedict XVI would not have too late a night. [12]

Misa de Gallo

Misa de Gallo is a name for the Roman Catholic Mass celebrated around midnight of Christmas Eve and sometimes in the days immediately preceding Christmas.

Philippines Republic in Southeast Asia

The Philippines, officially the Republic of the Philippines, is an archipelagic country in Southeast Asia. Situated in the western Pacific Ocean, it consists of about 7,641 islands that are broadly categorized under three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The capital city of the Philippines is Manila and the most populous city is Quezon City, both part of Metro Manila. Bounded by the South China Sea on the west, the Philippine Sea on the east and the Celebes Sea on the southwest, the Philippines shares maritime borders with Taiwan to the north, Japan to the northeast, Vietnam to the west, Palau to the east, and Malaysia and Indonesia to the south.

Simbang Gabi

Simbáng Gabi is a devotional nine-day series of Masses practiced by Filipino Catholics and Aglipayans in the Philippines in anticipation of Christmas. This is similar to the nine-day series of dawn Masses leading to Christmas Eve practiced in Puerto Rico called Misa de Aguinaldo.

A nativity scene may be erected indoors or outdoors, and is composed of figurines depicting the infant Jesus resting in a manger, Mary, and Joseph. [13] Other figures in the scene may include angels, shepherds, and various animals. The figures may be made of any material, [14] and arranged in a stable or grotto. The Magi may also appear, and are sometimes not placed in the scene until the week following Christmas to account for their travel time to Bethlehem. While most home nativity scenes are packed away at Christmas or shortly thereafter, nativity scenes in churches usually remain on display until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. [14]

Angel Supernatural being in various religions and mythologies

An angel is generally a supernatural being found in various religions and mythologies. Abrahamic religions often depict angels as benevolent celestial beings who act as intermediaries between God and humanity. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings, and carrying out tasks on behalf of God. Abrahamic religions often organize angels into hierarchies, although such rankings may vary between sects in each religion. Such angels may receive specific names or titles. People have also extended the use of the term "angel" to various notions of spirits or figures found in other religious traditions. The theological study of angels is known as "angelology". Angels expelled from Heaven are referred to as fallen angels as distinct from the heavenly host.

Shepherd Person who tends, feeds, or guards flocks of sheep

A shepherd or sheepherder is a person who tends, herds, feeds, or guards herds of sheep. Shepherd derives from Old English sceaphierde.

Magi group of people who follow Mazdaism or Zoroaster

Magi were priests in Zoroastrianism and the earlier religions of the western Iranians. The earliest known use of the word magi is in the trilingual inscription written by Darius the Great, known as the Behistun Inscription. Old Persian texts, predating the Hellenistic period, refer to a magus as a Zurvanic, and presumably Zoroastrian, priest.

Whilst it does not include any kind of Mass, the Church of Scotland has a service beginning just before midnight, in which carols are sung. The Church of Scotland no longer holds Hogmanay services on New Year's Eve, however. The Christmas Eve Services are still very popular. On Christmas Eve, the Christ Candle in the center of the Advent wreath is traditionally lit in many church services. In candlelight services, while singing Silent Night , each member of the congregation receives a candle and passes along their flame which is first received from the Christ Candle.

Advent wreath, lighting the candle Advent2007candlelight.JPG
Advent wreath, lighting the candle

Lutherans traditionally practice Christmas Eve Eucharistic traditions typical of Germany and Scandinavia. "Krippenspiele" (Nativity plays), special festive music for organ, vocal and brass choirs and candlelight services make Christmas Eve one of the highlights in the Lutheran Church calendar.

Christmas Vespers are popular in the early evening, and midnight services are also widespread in regions which are predominantly Lutheran. The old Lutheran tradition of a Christmas Vigil in the early morning hours of Christmas Day (Christmette) can still be found in some regions. In eastern and middle Germany, congregations still continue the tradition of "Quempas singing": separate groups dispersed in various parts of the church sing verses of the song "He whom shepherds once came Praising" (Quem pastores laudavere) responsively.

A nativity scene Krippe Gutenzell.jpg
A nativity scene

Methodists celebrate the evening in different ways. Some, in the early evening, come to their church to celebrate Holy Communion with their families. The mood is very solemn, and the only visible light is the Advent Wreath, and the candles upon the Lord's Table. Others celebrate the evening with services of light, which include singing the song Silent Night as a variety of candles (including personal candles) are lit. Other churches have late evening services perhaps at 11 pm, so that the church can celebrate Christmas Day together with the ringing of bells at midnight. Others offer Christmas Day services as well.

The annual "Nine Lessons and Carols", broadcast from King's College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve, has established itself a Christmas custom in the United Kingdom. [15] It is broadcast outside the UK via the BBC World Service, and is also bought by broadcasters around the world. [15]

Eastern churches

Annunciation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 2013-12-24--Artoklasia during Christmas Eve service.JPG
Annunciation of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

In the Byzantine Rite, Christmas Eve is referred to as Paramony ("preparation"). It is the concluding day of the Nativity Fast and is observed as a day of strict fasting by those devout Byzantine Christians who are physically capable of doing so. In some traditions, nothing is eaten until the first star appears in the evening sky, in commemoration of the Star of Bethlehem. The liturgical celebration begins earlier in the day with the celebration of the Royal Hours, followed by the Divine Liturgy combined with the celebration of Vespers, during which a large number of passages from the Old Testament are chanted, recounting the history of salvation. After the dismissal at the end of the service, a new candle is brought out into the center of the church and lit, and all gather round and sing the Troparion and Kontakion of the Feast.

In the evening, the All-Night Vigil for the Feast of the Nativity is composed of Great Compline, Matins and the First Hour. The Byzantine services of Christmas Eve are intentionally parallel to those of Good Friday, illustrating the theological point that the purpose of the Incarnation was to make possible the Crucifixion and Resurrection. This is illustrated in Eastern icons of the Nativity, on which the Christ Child is wrapped in swaddling clothes reminiscent of his burial wrappings. The child is also shown lying on a stone, representing the Tomb of Christ, rather than a manger. The Cave of the Nativity is also a reminder of the cave in which Jesus was buried.

The services of Christmas Eve are also similar to those of the Eve of Theophany (Epiphany), and the two Great Feasts are considered one celebration.

In some Orthodox cultures, after the Vesperal Liturgy the family returns home to a festive meal, but one at which Orthodox fasting rules are still observed: no meat or dairy products (milk, cheese, eggs, etc.) are consumed (see below for variations according to nationality). Then they return to the church for the All-Night Vigil.

The next morning, Christmas Day, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated again, but with special features that occur only on Great Feasts of the Lord. After the dismissal of this Liturgy, the faithful customarily greet each other with the kiss of peace and the words: "Christ is Born!", to which the one being greeted responds: "Glorify Him!" (the opening words of the Canon of the Nativity that was chanted the night before during the Vigil). This greeting, together with many of the hymns of the feast, continue to be used until the leave-taking of the feast on 29 December.

The first three days of the feast are particularly solemn. The second day is known as the Synaxis of the Theotokos, and commemorates the role of the Virgin Mary in the Nativity of Jesus. The third day is referred to simply as "the Third Day of the Nativity". The Saturday and Sunday following 25 December have special Epistle and Gospel readings assigned to them. 29 December celebrates the Holy Innocents.

Byzantine Christians observe a festal period of twelve days, during which no one in the Church fasts, even on Wednesdays and Fridays, which are normal fasting days throughout the rest of the year. During this time one feast leads into another: 25–31 December is the afterfeast of the Nativity; 2–5 January is the forefeast of the Epiphany.



In Bulgaria, the meal consists of an odd number of lenten dishes in compliance with the rules of fasting. They are usually the traditional sarma, bob chorba (bean soup), fortune kravai (pastry with a fortune in it; also called bogovitsa, vechernik, kolednik), stuffed peppers, nuts, dried fruit, boiled wheat. [16] The meal is often accompanied with wine or Bulgaria's traditional alcoholic beverage rakia, in the past olovina (a type of homemade rye beer). The meals used to be put on top of hay, directly on the floor, together with a ploughshare or a coulter. [17]


In French-speaking places, Réveillon is a long dinner eaten on Christmas Eve.


While other Christian families throughout the world celebrate the Christmas Eve meal with various meats, Italians (especially Sicilians) celebrate the traditional Catholic "Feast of the Seven Fishes" which was historically served after a 24-hour fasting period. Although Christmas fasting is no longer a popular custom, some Italian-Americans still enjoy a meatless Christmas Eve feast [18] and attend the Midnight Mass. In various cultures, a festive dinner is traditionally served for the family and close friends in attendance, when the first star (usually Sirius) arrives on the sky.


Traditional Polish Wigilia meal Wigilia potrawy 554.jpg
Traditional Polish Wigilia meal

A similar tradition ( Wigilia , or 'Christmas Vigil') exists in Poland. The number of dishes used to be traditionally an odd number (usually 5, 7, 9, or 11.) [19] According to the Słownik etymologiczny języka polskiego (Etymological Dictionary of the Polish Language) by Aleksander Brückner, the number of dishes was traditionally related to social class: the peasants' vigil consisted of 5 or 7 dishes, the gentry usually had 9, and the aristocracy, 11 dishes, but the even number 12 is also found today to remember the 12 disciples. It is obligatory to try a portion of all of them. Some traditions specify that the number of guests cannot be odd. [20] [21]

In Poland, gifts are unwrapped on the Christmas Eve, as opposed to the Christmas Day.


Lithuanian Christmas Eve table with kuciukai Kucios.JPG
Lithuanian Christmas Eve table with kūčiukai

Lithuanian Christmas Eve blends pagan and Christian traditions as initially it was a celebration of winter solstice. [22] Traditionally, Lithuanians believed that animals could talk on that night, and it was possible to predict the future. [23] Kūčios ("Holy Meal") is the most important event of the year and family reunion. Dead relatives are remembered with an empty plate set at the table. [24] The feast starts after the rise of the evening star. [25] [ unreliable source? ] No products made from meat, milk and alcohol are allowed during the Kūčios. [26] [ unreliable source? ] In all, 12 dishes are served, each of them are rustic, made from grains, fish, dried fruit or mushrooms including kūčiukai, Small bread biscuits with poppy seed milk are served.[ citation needed ] After the dinner is over the table is left uncleared overnight for the feast of vėlės (spirits or soul). [27] [ unreliable source? ] [28]

Russia, Ukraine

In Russia, Ukraine, traditional, meatless, 12-dishes Christmas Eve Supper is served on Christmas Eve before opening gifts. The table is spread with a white cloth symbolic of the swaddling clothes the Child Jesus was wrapped in, and a large white candle stands in the center of the table symbolizing Christ the Light of the World. Next to it is a round loaf of bread symbolizing Christ Bread of Life. Hay is often displayed either on the table or as a decoration in the room, reminiscent of the manger in Bethlehem. The twelve dishes (which differ by nationality or region) symbolize the Twelve Apostles.

The Holy Meal was a common Eastern Orthodox tradition in the Russian Empire, but during the era of the Soviet Union it was greatly discouraged as a result of the official atheism of the former regime. It is coming back in Russia and continues to be popular in Ukraine.

The main attributes of Holy Meal in Ukraine are kutia, a poppy seed, honey and wheat dish, and uzvar, a drink made from reconstituted dried fruits. Other typical dishes are borscht, Varenyky, and dishes made of fish, phaseolus and cabbage.


Candles on Christmas Eve 2010 Candle lighting a plate of oranges and smarties 1.JPG
Candles on Christmas Eve 2010

In accordance with the Christmas traditions of the Serbs, their festive meal has a copious and diverse selection of foods, although it is prepared according to the rules of fasting.

As well as a round, unleavened loaf of bread and salt, which are necessary, this meal may comprise roast fish, cooked beans, sauerkraut, noodles with ground walnuts, honey, and wine.

Families in some Slavic countries leave an empty place at the table for guests (alluding to Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in Bethlehem).

Gift giving

Christmas presents under the Christmas tree Gifts xmas.jpg
Christmas presents under the Christmas tree

During the Reformation in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl , and the date of giving gifts changed from 6 December to Christmas Eve. [29] It is the night when Santa Claus makes his rounds delivering gifts to good children. Many trace the custom of giving gifts to the Magi who brought gifts for the Christ child in the manger.

In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Hungary, where Saint Nicholas (sv. Mikuláš/szent Mikulás) gives his sweet gifts on 6 December, the Christmas gift-giver is the Child Jesus (Ježíšek in Czech, Jézuska in Hungarian, Ježiško in Slovak and Isusek in Croatian). [30]

In most parts of Austria, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Switzerland, presents are traditionally exchanged on the evening of 24 December. Children are commonly told that presents were brought either by the Christkind (German for Christ child), [31] or by the Weihnachtsmann. Both leave the gifts, but are in most families not seen doing so. In Germany, the gifts are also brought on 6 December by "the Nikolaus" with his helper Knecht Ruprecht.

Christmas tree with presents hanging on the tree Gezin bij de kerstboom c1860.jpg
Christmas tree with presents hanging on the tree

In Estonia Jõuluvana , Finland Joulupukki , Denmark Julemanden , Norway Julenissen and Sweden Jultomten , personally meets children and gives presents in the evening of Christmas Eve. [32] [33]

In Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, the Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Quebec, Romania, Uruguay, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, Christmas presents are opened mostly on the evening of the 24th – following German tradition, this is also the practice among the British Royal Family since it was introduced by Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort [34] [35] – while in Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, English Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, this occurs mostly on the morning of Christmas Day.

In other Latin American countries, people stay awake until midnight, when they open the presents.

In Spain, gifts are traditionally opened on the morning of 6 January, Epiphany day ("Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos"), [36] though in some other countries, like Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay, people receive presents both around Christmas and on the morning of Epiphany day.

In Belgium and the Netherlands Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas and his companion Zwarte Piet deliver presents to children and adults alike on the evening of 5 December, the eve of his nameday. [37] On 24 December they go to church or watch the late-night Mass on TV, or have a meal.[ citation needed ]

Christmas Eve around the world

A Christmas Eve candlelight service in Baghdad, Iraq Flickr - The U.S. Army - Christmas Eve Candlelight Services.jpg
A Christmas Eve candlelight service in Baghdad, Iraq

Christmas Eve is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. Elements common to many areas of the world include the attendance of special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmastime is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St. Nicholas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's, and the Feast of the Epiphany.


Among Christians, as well as non-Christians who celebrate Christmas, the significant amount of vacation travel, and travel back to family homes, that takes place in the lead-up to Christmas means that Christmas Eve is also frequently a time of social events and parties, worldwide. [38] [39] [40] [41] [42]

In Jewish culture

Nittel Nacht is a name given to Christmas Eve by Jewish scholars in the 17th century.

In contemporary American-Jewish culture

With Christmas Day a work holiday throughout the United States, there is a space of unfilled free time during which much of American commerce and society is not functioning, and which can give rise to a sense of loneliness or alienation for American Jews. [43] [44] [45] [46] [47]

Jews also typically do not engage in the family gathering and religious worship activities that are central to Christmas Eve for Christians. [48]

Typical contemporary activities have usually been limited to "Chinese and a movie" [49] [50] [51] —consuming a meal at a Chinese restaurant, which tend to be open for business on the Christmas holiday, and watching a movie at the theater or at home, stereotypically a rerun of It's a Wonderful Life . [47] [52] [53] [54]

Since the 1980s a variety of social events for young Jews have sprung up, and become popular, on Christmas Eve. [55] These include the Matzo Ball, The Ball, and a number of local events organized by Jewish communities and local Jewish Federations in North America. [44]

In Chinese culture

In Mandarin, Christmas Eve is called 平安夜 ("peaceful night"). People exchange apples, because the word for "apple" ((píng)果) is a rhyming wordplay with "peace" ((píng)安). [56]

Historical events

A cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the 1914 Christmas Truce. The text reads 1914--The Khaki Chum's Christmas Truce--85 Years--Lest We Forget. Khaki-chums-xmas-truce-1914-1999.redvers.jpg
A cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the 1914 Christmas Truce. The text reads 1914—The Khaki Chum's Christmas Truce—85 Years—Lest We Forget.

A number of historical events have been influenced by the occurrence of Christmas Eve.

Christmas truce

During World War I in 1914 and 1915 there was an unofficial Christmas truce, particularly between British and German troops. The truce began on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht ("Silent Night"). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols. The two sides shouted Christmas greetings to each other. Soon there were calls for visits across the "No man's land" when small gifts were exchanged. The truce also allowed a breathing space during which recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Funerals took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in No Man's Land, soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from Psalm 23. The truce occurred in spite of opposition at higher levels of the military command. Earlier in the autumn, a call by Pope Benedict XV for an official truce between the warring governments had been ignored.

Earthrise, as seen from Apollo 8, 24 December 1968, photographed by astronaut William Anders (NASA) NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg
Earthrise , as seen from Apollo 8, 24 December 1968, photographed by astronaut William Anders (NASA)

Apollo 8 reading from Genesis

On 24 December 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast to that date, the astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman of Apollo 8 surprised the world with a reading of the Creation from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the Moon. [57] Madalyn Murray O'Hair, an atheist activist, filed a lawsuit under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. [58] The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, which was upheld on appeal. [59]

In 1969, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp (Scott# 1371) commemorating the Apollo 8 flight around the Moon. The stamp featured a detail of the famous photograph, Earthrise , of the Earth "rising" over the Moon (NASA image AS8-14-2383HR), taken by Anders on Christmas Eve, and the words, "In the beginning God...".

See also

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Saint Nicholas Day, or the Feast of Saint Nicholas, observed on December 5/6 in Western Christian countries and December 19 in Eastern Christian countries on the Old Calendar, is the feast day of Saint Nicholas. It is celebrated as a Christian festival with particular regard to his reputation as a bringer of gifts, as well as through the attendance of Mass or other worship services. In Europe, especially in "Germany and Poland, boys would dress as bishops begging alms for the poor." In Ukraine, children wait for St. Nicholas to come and to put a present under their pillows provided that the children were good during the year. Children who behaved badly may expect to find a twig or a piece of coal under their pillows. In the Netherlands, Dutch children put out a clog filled with hay and a carrot for Saint Nicholas' horse. On Saint Nicholas Day, gifts are tagged with personal humorous rhymes written by the sender. In the United States, one custom associated with Saint Nicholas Day is children leaving their shoes in the foyer on Saint Nicholas Eve in hope that Saint Nicholas will place some coins on the soles.

Presentation of Jesus at the Temple early episode in the life of Jesus

The Presentation of Jesus atthe Temple is an early episode in the life of Jesus, describing his presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem in order to officially induct him into Judaism, that is celebrated by many Christian Churches on the holiday of Candlemas. It is described in the chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Within the account, "Luke's narration of the Presentation in the Temple combines the purification rite with the Jewish ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn ."

Epiphany (holiday) Christian feast, public holiday in some countries

Epiphany is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.

Christmas in the Philippines Christmas celebrations and traditions in the Philippines

Christmas in the Philippines, one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia, is one of the biggest holidays in the island. The country celebrates the world's longest Christmas season, with Christmas carols heard as early as September and lasting variously until either Epiphany, the Feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9, or the Feast of the Santo Niño on the third Sunday of January. The official observance by the Catholic Church in the Philippines is from the beginning of the Simbang Gabi on December 16 until the Feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday of the year.

Christmas traditions

Christmas traditions vary from country to country. Christmas celebrations for many nations include the installing and lighting of Christmas trees, the hanging of Advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, candy canes, setting out cookies and milk, and the creation of Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas carols may be sung and stories told about such figures as the Baby Jesus, St Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkind or Grandfather Frost. The sending and exchange of Christmas card greetings, observance of fasting and special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers on Christmas Eve, the burning of a Yule log, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmas is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St Nicholas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's, and the Feast of the Epiphany.


Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland, held on December 24. The term is often applied to the whole of Christmas Eve, extending further to Pasterka - midnight Mass, held in Roman Catholic churches all over Poland and in Polish communities worldwide at or before midnight. The custom is sometimes referred to as "wieczerza" or "wieczerza wigilijna", in Old Polish meaning evening repast, linked to the late church service, Vespers from the Latin.

Christmas dinner Meal traditionally eaten at Christmas

Christmas dinner is a meal traditionally eaten at Christmas. This meal can take place any time from the evening of Christmas Eve to the evening of Christmas Day itself. The meals are often particularly rich and substantial, in the tradition of the Christian feast day celebration, and form a significant part of gatherings held to celebrate the arrival of Christmastide. In many cases, there is a ritual element to the meal related to the religious celebration, such as the praying of grace.


Kūčios or Kūtės is the traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Lithuania, held on the twenty fourth of December. The meal is a family occasion which includes many traditions of both pagan and Christian origin. Some traditions are no longer widespread and usually Lithuanians just enjoy dinner with relatives and friends while the main events and festivities are left for Christmas Day.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as The Eve, is an Italian-American celebration of Christmas Eve with dishes of fish and other seafood.

Weihnachten Christmas celebrations and traditions in Germany

Weihnachten is the observance of what is commonly known in English as Christmas Eve in the German-speaking countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It is also widespread in countries with a German-speaking minority, such as Transylvania in Romania, South Tyrol in Italy, Eupen in Belgium, and various diasporas such as the German Brazilian and German American communities. Traditions of Weihnachten influenced Christmas and Advent culture throughout the world.

Christmas in Hungary Christmas celebrations and traditions in Hungary

Christmas in Hungary is celebrated with traditions similar to those found in other Central European countries as well as customs unique to the region.

Christmas in Mexico Christmas celebrations and traditions in Mexico

Christmas in Mexico is celebrated during a season that begins near December 12 to January 6, candlemas on February 2. During this entire time, one can see nativity scenes, poinsettias and Christmas shoes. The season begins with celebrations related to the Virgin for life, the patroness of Mexico, followed by traditions such as Las Posadas and pastorelas.

Christmas in Sweden Christmas celebrations and traditions in Sweden

Christmas is celebrated throughout December and traditionally until St. Knut's Day on January 13. The main celebration and the exchange of gifts in many families takes place on Christmas Eve, December 24. The Lucia Day is celebrated during Advent, on December 13.

Christmas in France Christmas celebrations and traditions in France

Christmas in France is a major annual celebration, as in most countries of the Christian world. Christmas is celebrated as a public holiday in France being celebrated on December 25, same as the United States and other countries.


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