Christmas Eve on December 24 kicks off a series of holiday traditions. Some are ancient practices with a modern spin, while others date back hundreds of years.
Christmas Eve is filled with both religious and nonreligious traditions. Religious traditions center around the birth of Jesus. Different denominations have their own traditions. On Christmas Eve Roman Catholics and Anglicans hold Midnight Mass. Lutherans celebrate with candlelight services and Christmas carols. Many evangelical churches hold evening services where families celebrate Holy Communion.
Around the world, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a variety of foods. In Italy, they celebrate the Feast of Seven Fishes. Russians traditionally serve a 12-dish Christmas Eve Supper before opening gifts. Meanwhile, in Bulgaria, the Christmas Eve meal consists of an odd number of meatless dishes.
Besides food and religious services, the holiday is when Santa Clause takes to the sky in his sleigh to deliver Christmas gifts around the world. Other names for the white-bearded man in a red suit include Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and Saint Nicholas. No matter what he is called, the legend of Santa is based on a real-life man named Saint Nicholas of Myra. The early Christian bishop was known for secret gift-giving, as well as many miracles. Through the years, the legend of Santa grew to include the North Pole, a sleigh driven by reindeer, a naughty or nice list, and his jolly laugh, “ho, ho, ho.”
HOW TO OBSERVE CHRISTMAS EVE
What are some of your holiday traditions? How did they begin?
There are many ways to observe Christmas Eve. For many families, the most important thing is to make lasting memories with their loved ones. Here are some ways to celebrate:
- Attend church for a candlelight service or Midnight Mass
- Read the account of Jesus’ birth from the book of Luke
- Put out milk and cookies for Santa
- Pass out Christmas cookies and other goodies to your neighbors
- Host an ugly Christmas sweater party
- Gather around the tree with your family and cups of cocoa and share favorite holiday memories
- Go caroling in your neighborhood or at a senior center
- Make a gingerbread house
- Hang up Christmas stockings
- Read Christmas classics like The Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol
- Watch a fun Christmas movie like Elf, Home Alone, or The Grinch
- Rent a limo and look at Christmas lights
As you can see, there are many wonderful ways to celebrate Christmas Eve. While you wait for Santa Claus to come down the chimney (or through the window, down the fire escape, or your preferred entrance) you can explore the histories of other holiday personas in 5 Stories Behind Faces of Our Favorite Holidays. Share how you’ll be celebrating this special day by posting on social media with #ChristmasEve.
CHRISTMAS EVE HISTORY
Hearkening back to the 16th century when Christian traditions were first influenced by winter solstice celebrations, decorating and preparing for Christmas Day took place the evening before. This included putting up the tree, decorating with mistletoe and holly, bringing in the Yule log and making dishes for the Christmas meal.
Jewish traditions have historically influenced Christian practices, too. One such practice is that the church day traditionally begins in the evening. Christian churches have celebrated Christmas Eve in part because it is believed that Jesus was born at midnight. Many churches today hold Christmas Eve services or Midnight Masses. They may also hold candlelight vigils, Nativity productions or sing carols.