Christmas Eve Traditions

Christmas eve scene in a living room

There is nothing quite like the excitement that builds throughout the house on Christmas Eve. The anticipation of Santa delivering presents to all of the children, families gathered together celebrating this wonderful holiday – there is so much to look forward to on Christmas Eve. In fact, Christmas Eve has become a bit of a holiday itself, with its own set of traditions for many people around the world. The entire day is filled with special customs and events for many families, resulting in the night before Christmas becoming almost as exciting as Christmas day itself. Taking a closer look at some of the ways Christmas Eve is being celebrated around the world can open us up to new ideas and further increase the joy we experience on this special day.

Christmas eve scene in a living room

Why Do People Celebrate Christmas Eve?

Before looking at some of the traditional celebrations that occur on Christmas Eve, it is important to first understand why the day is even celebrated at all. Why not just celebrate Christmas Day itself? In order to understand this, we need to return to the true meaning of Christmas and why we celebrate it at all. Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. While the actual date of the birth of Jesus has been debated by scholars, December 25th became the official day of celebration. However, based on certain passages in Scripture, it is believed that Jesus was born late at night, probably close to midnight. This is the reason behind the Midnight Mass celebration that is so popular among Christians on Christmas Eve. It is also the reason that Christmas Eve itself is so special. Jesus was believed to have been born on the cusp of these two days, making both days extremely important.

Furthermore, some ancient cultures viewed sunset as the end of one day and the beginning of the next. So the celebration of Christmas would truly begin at sunset the night before. These religious and historical reasons both contributed to the celebration of Christmas truly beginning on Christmas Eve. As history has unfolded, different countries celebrate the day differently, and various traditions have taken hold.

How is Christmas Eve Recognized Around the World?

In many countries around the world, Christmas Eve is celebrated with either a full or half day off from work. The United States is not the only country in which this is common. The United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are some other countries where this is often the case. In fact, some counties view Christmas Eve as a public holiday with banks and businesses closed, such as Germany and Austria.

People around the world spend Christmas Eve doing a number of traditional tasks and activities. One of the most common traditions is last-minute Christmas shopping with stores often staying open late hours and holding last minute holiday sales. But beyond this commercial side of things, there are a number of religious and familial traditions that take place.

The Iconic, the legendary Coliseum of Rome, Italy on christmas

In some families it is custom to decorate the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, reserving this special activity for the night before Christmas. Stockings are typically hung by the fireplace the night before Christmas in anticipation of Santa filling them with presents. In France, children place their shoes by the fireplace rather than hang stockings, and Santa fills their shoes with treats as he visits each home.

Speaking of gifts, in some countries, presents are exchanged and opened on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas Day. Germany, Portugal and Sweden are some of the countries that follow this custom. This Christmas Eve gift exchange solidifies Christmas Eve as full player in the Christmas celebration.

Enjoy your Christmas Eve

In other households, Christmas Eve is a day of food preparation for a large and joyous family meal on Christmas Day. For some, Christmas Eve dinner is filled with tradition. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a traditional Italian-American celebration of Christmas Eve. This meal consists of seven different seafood dishes, and it commemorates the birth of Jesus.  It is one of the most traditional Christmas Eve meals. Some people fast on Christmas Eve, eating very little. A big meal (such as the Feast of the Seven Fishes) is then had after Midnight Mass, with this late meal being the celebratory meal of Christmas.

Yet another festive Christmas Eve tradition is caroling. Groups of singers gather together and sing a variety of Christmas songs for people to enjoy. Caroling – whether done in a public setting or door-to-door – is a true display of the Christmas spirit. Carolers spread the joy of the holiday through their voices, and it is a Christmas Eve tradition that has stood the test of time.

Many people around the world spend Christmas Eve at church. Various services are held at churches across the globe, with Midnight Mass being the most traditional of them all. In fact, in Catholic countries such as Spain, Mexico and Italy, the Midnight Mass is the most important service of the Christmas season. This celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is often accompanied by a Nativity Scene in which the baby Jesus is displayed. It is also not uncommon for a live re-enactment of the Nativity to take place. These live performances are a magnificent way to teach the younger generation the true meaning of Christmas.

Whether you celebrate all or some of these Christmas Eve traditions, there is no denying the energy and excitement that this day holds. Decorate the tree, hang the stockings, prep the food, finish your shopping and remember the true meaning of it all while you’re doing it. When it comes down to it, there is no denying that Christmas truly is a two day celebration with the party kicking off on December 24th.