Christmas Eve is the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, the festival commemorating the birth of Jesus. Let’s see some amazing facts about the holiday!
1. 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.
2. 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, a practice inherited from Jewish tradition and based on the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis: “And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.”
3. Many churches still ring their church bells and hold prayers in the evening; for example, the Nordic Lutheran churches.
4. 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.
5. 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”.
6. 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.
7. 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, such figures were said to instead deliver presents on the eve of Saint Nicholas’ feast day (December 6).
8. Roman Catholics and high church Anglicans traditionally celebrate Midnight Mass, which begins either at or sometime before midnight on Christmas Eve.
9. 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).
10. In recent years some churches have scheduled their “Midnight” Mass as early as 7 pm. In Spanish-speaking areas, the Midnight Mass is sometimes referred to as Misa de Gallo, or Missa do Galo in Portuguese (“Rooster’s Mass”).
11. 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.
12. 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.[
13. 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.
14. The Church of Scotland no longer holds Hogmanay services on New Year’s Eve, however. The Christmas Eve Services are still very popular.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. Other figures in the scene may include angels, shepherds, and various animals. The figures may be made of any material, 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.[
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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. It is broadcast outside the UK via the BBC World Service, and is also bought by broadcasters around the world
22. 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.
23. In some traditions, nothing is eaten until the first star appears in the evening sky, in commemoration of the Star of Bethlehem.
24. 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.
25. 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.
26. 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.
27. 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.
28. 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.
29. 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 December 25 have special Epistle and Gospel readings assigned to them. December 29 celebrates the Holy Innocents.
30. 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: December 25–31 is the afterfeast of the Nativity; January 2–5 is the forefeast of the Epiphany.
31. 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.
32. 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.
33. In French-speaking places, Réveillon is a long dinner eaten on Christmas Eve.
34. 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.
35. Christmas fasting is no longer a popular custom, some Italian-Americans still enjoy a meatless Christmas Eve feast and attend the Midnight Mass.
36. 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.
37. 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.)
38. 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.
39. It is obligatory to try a portion of all of them. Some traditions specify that the number of guests cannot be odd.
40. In Russia, Ukraine, and Lithuania, a traditional meatless 12-dishes Christmas Eve Supper is served on Christmas Eve before opening gifts. This is known as the “Holy Meal” (Kūčios in Lithuania).
41. 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.
42. The twelve dishes (which differ by nationality or region) symbolize the Twelve Apostles.
43. 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.
44. 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.
45. 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).