Typically the entire month of December, leading up until Christmas, which falls on December 25th each year is filled with festivities and anticipation. People begin to decorate their homes and it becomes commonplace to see Christmas lights ornamenting cities. However, Christmas Eve is an especially special occasion, since it’s simply the night before Christmas. All of the anticipation and holiday cheer, that’s been amped up for this one special day, becomes just one sleep away. For this reason, Christmas Eve is considered a significant occasion of its own and includes a number of traditions to celebrate the special night…
A religious tradition for Christmas Eve is Midnight mass, which like its name suggests, is celebrated at midnight, on the night before Christmas. Midnight mass belongs to the Christian, Catholic, and Lutheran religions and is when there is a gathering of people to watch a priest signal the presence of Jesus Christ with a cross. Masses congregate together for this event, in celebration of Jesus and God, and to also sing hymns, listen to passages from the bible, and to engage in prayer.
The history of Midnight mass dates, all the way back to 380AD, as was recorded in a journal that was written by a Christian woman named, Egeria. She tells of people who gather in Jerusalem for a midnight vigil, which is simply the act of staying awake late into the night, on January 6th. Christmas used to be celebrated in January and only a couple hundred of years later became celebrated December 25th. The reason for the date change was because of the Pope at the time, who decided that it would be convenient to celebrate Christmas at the same time as the popular celebration, called the feast of St. Anastasia.
For many countries, Christmas mass remains the most popular Christmas celebration, especially in Catholic countries like, like Spain, Mexico, and Italy. Fasting is also common on Christmas Eve, since many skip dinner before Midnight mass and only eat after the mass, after midnight. However, it is not mandatory to fast and many countries, including Denmark and Finland, do not. For some countries, the mass and the meal of Christmas Eve is not the main event, since they actually open presents! Santa visits countries like Germany, Portugal, and Sweden early to give them their presents, to be opened Christmas Eve.
Many people also have their first moments of relaxation on Christmas Eve, having completed all the Christmas preparation, gift buying, and meal planning. It’s also customary for family and friends to go Christmas caroling around the neighborhood and even go door to door, singing favorite Christmas songs, to spread holiday cheer on Christmas Eve. Some families only begin to set up their Christmas trees on Christmas Eve, specifically in Germany, Serbia, and Slovakia.
Another very popular tradition is to make a fire with a Yule log for Christmas Eve. The Vikings were said to have ventured out during the winter solstice, which would have been the shortest, darkest day of the year in search of the most robust wooden log for the fire. They called this the ‘Yule log’, which when lit at Christmas could burn up to 12 nights, up until the 6th of January.
Other Christmas décor like holly, Christmas wreaths, ivy and mistletoes may traditionally be set up on night before Christmas. Holly is said to be symbolic of Jesus Christs thorn crown, worn on the cross, when he was crucified, and its red berries, his blood. All this is to symbolize how Jesus died to forgive people of their sins.
Christmas wreaths, while very closely intertwined with the holiday today, may have totally unrelated origins to religion and Christmas. In Roman times, they hung wreaths on their doors as signs of victory and status. Ivy, however, has religious meaning for the Christmas holiday and is said to symbolize how Christians cling to God for support in life, like ivy clings to things to climb and support itself.
When most people hear the word mistletoe, they think kissing! The mistletoe originates from the Greek festival of Saturnalia. However, in the 1700’s, mistletoe became known as the kissing ball in English tradition. A young lady at Christmas, standing under the ball, would be kissed for a deep romance to begin or a lasting friendship to develop. Many European countries and Canada celebrates kissing under the mistletoe and sometimes the kiss can even be a promise to marry.
For many kids, Christmas mass, Christmas meals, and mistletoe kissing is the farthest thing from their minds on Christmas Eve. Rather, it is all about the eminent opening of presents, to be found underneath the Christmas tree, Christmas morning. Sometimes, kids are granted the privilege of opening one present the night before Christmas, yet it always tends to leave much to be desired for the next day. Some kids may even open their stockings on Christmas Eve however it’s also more common to have the stocking on Christmas morning.
Some parents may have fun with their kids and dress up as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve or may make knocking sounds on the wall to pretend that Santa’s reindeer are on the roof, delivering gifts. What’s undeniable is that the night before Christmas is an exciting time for any kid, who’s grown up with the holiday. It’s all about magic, child-like imagination, and wonder at how Santa and his reindeer, travel through the snowy sky to give gifts.
So, Christmas Eve is an important part of the holiday season because it includes so many festivities for families to engage in, like having a grand meal, going to Midnight mass, decorating the home, and getting excited for presents the next morning. Yet, the busiest person Christmas Eve is always Santa, who must travel around the globe and hop down millions of chimneys, all in one night!