Christmas Eve in Western Christianity Date in the current year: December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve in Western Christianity Christmas Eve is the day or evening preceding Christmas Day. It is observed on December 24 in Western Christianity, as well as by many non-religious people. In some countries, the day before Christmas is a public holiday or at least a half-holiday.

The tradition of starting Christmas celebrations on the evening of December 24 emerged long ago. The reason is that the Christian liturgical day starts at sunset, a practice that was inherited from Jewish tradition. Besides, it is believed that Jesus Christ was born at night. Therefore, in many countries Christmas Eve is referred to as Holy Night or Good Night in commemoration of his birth.

In many Christian churches, Christmas is preceded by Advent, a time of expectant waiting, repentance, and preparation for the festivities. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and concludes on Christmas Eve. Advent used to be a period of fasting, but not anymore. Nevertheless, some people refrain from food on Christmas Eve until the first star appears in the evening sky, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem.

Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and many other Western churches hold a service on the night of Christmas Eve, traditionally beginning on midnight. This service is usually referred to as Midnight Mass even by those denominations that don’t typically employ the word “Mass” for their liturgies.

In many families, Christmas Eve is more of a secular celebration. Even those who don’t attend Church gather around the table for the Christmas Eve meal with their family or friends. Most countries have specific Christmas Eve meal traditions that have evolved over centuries.

For example, in French-speaking countries and localities, a long dinner preceding Midnight Mass is called réveillon. This name is derived from the word réveil (waking) because participants have to stay awake at least until midnight when Christmas Eve gives way to Christmas Day. It is customary to consume exceptional or luxurious food such as escargots, oysters, lobster, foie gras, etc. A traditional réveillon dish is turkey with chestnuts.

Although fasting on Christmas Eve is no longer a widespread custom, some Italians (especially Italian-Americans) cook a meatless meal with dishes of fish and other seafood, known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Other countries where people enjoy fish on Christmas Eve include Poland (carp) and Portugal (bacalhau com todos – boiled codfish with vegetables and hard-boiled egg).

In some parts of the world, is also customary to exchange presents as a symbol of gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh borne by the Magi who visited Jesus after his birth. A popular Christmas Eve tradition is hanging up a stocking by the fireplace or bed where Santa Claus is supposed to leave Christmas presents. Some children leave milk and cookies for Santa and carrots for his deer next to the stocking.

However, not everywhere Christmas gifts are given on Christmas Eve. In some countries, people wait until midnight to exchange gifts, open their gifts on Christmas morning, or even wait for Boxing Day (December 26).

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Religious Holidays

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Christmas Eve, religious holiday, public holiday, Holy Night, Western Christianity