Christmas Eve

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Christmas Eve, on December 24, is the day before Christmas Day, the celebrated birthday of Jesus Christ. It is treated to a greater or a lesser extent in most Christian societies as part of the Christmas season. The day of Christmas Eve is the traditional day to set up the Christmas tree, but as the Christmas season has been extended several weeks back (to Thanksgiving in the United States), many trees will have been set up for weeks.

In nearly all countries, the day of Christmas Eve is a shortened business day. For example, (when it falls on a weekday) most financial markets close by early afternoon, and nearly all retail and commercial businesses are closed by late afternoon - typically between 4:00 and 6:00 pm.

In the Western Christian Churches, the Christmas season liturgically begins on Christmas Eve. The Mass of the Vigil is said in the late afternoon or early evening hours of December 24. The Christmas season continues through until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday following the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

Many Catholics traditionally celebrate a midnight Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve, which is held in churches throughout the world, marking the beginning of Christmas Day. A popular joke is to ask what time Midnight Mass starts, but in recent years some churches have started their "Midnight" Mass as early as 7 P.M. Other Catholic churches hold a candlelight service which is typically held earlier in the evening. These often feature dramatizations of the Nativity. Similar worship services are held in many Protestant churches on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day.

Large meals are common, often with turkey or ham as the main item. A traditional dish in Germany is roasted goose. In Czech Republic and Slovakia it is a fish soup and breaded roasted carp with potato salad. Italian Catholics eat seven types of seafood. In some parts of Eastern Europe such as Poland and Lithuania, a traditional meatless 12-dishes Christmas Eve Supper is served before opening gifts.

When it is Christmas Eve or La Nochebuena, as it is known in Spain, there are two important traditions - attending Christmas Mass and secondly, enjoying a meal with friends and family. There is a wide variety of typical foods one might find on plates across Spain on this particular night, and each region has its own distinct specialties. It is particularly common, however, to start the meal with a seafood dish such as prawns or salmon, followed by a bowl of hot, homemade soup. The main meal will commonly consist of roast lamb, or seafood, such as cod or shellfish. For dessert, there is quite a spread of delicacies, among them are turrón, a dessert made of honey, egg and almonds that is Arabic in origin.

It is also seen as the night when Santa Claus or his international variants, make their rounds giving gifts to good children. In the Czech Republic, where St. Nicholas (sv. Mikuláš) gave his sweet gifts already more than two weeks earlier, is Ježíšek, that is Child Jesus, the Christmas gift-giver. In Italy presents are opened on the morning of Christmas Eve, while in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Argentina, Poland, Portugal and Quebec, Kazakhstan Christmas presents are opened on that evening, and in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, English Canada, South Africa, and Australia mostly on the morning of Christmas Day. In Finland Joulupukki personally meets children and gives presents in the evening of Christmas Eve. In most parts of Germany, Austria and Switzerland Christmas presents are opened in the evening of December 24th ('Bescherung'). In Spain gifts are traditionally opened on the morning of January 6, Epiphany day ("Día de Los Reyes"), though in some other countries, like Argentina and Uruguay people received presents both around Christmas and on the morning of Epiphany day; there are also some countries, like the rest of Latin America, where people stay awake until midnight, when they open the presents.

The Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast annually from King's College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve has established itself as one of the signs that Christmas has begun in the United Kingdom. It is broadcast to many parts of the world via the BBC World Service.

In Iceland and Norway Christmas starts on Christmas Eve, at 6:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. respectively. Church bells ring at that time and people either sit down for holiday dinner at home or with closest family. After that they open gifts and spend the evening together.

In many cultures, a festive dinner is traditionally served for the family and close friends in attendance. In Slavic countries, it is known as Wygilia, and being invited to attend a Wygilia dinner with a family is considered a high honor. Unless attendance is impossible or otherwise too impractical, or if the person has made other plans already, turning down such an invitation, or not showing up can be considered extremely rude.

In North America, there is a mixture of families opening gifts in the evening and, more commonly, on Christmas Day morning. In Quebec and among many francophone families living in other provinces, the Réveillon is held on Christmas Eve with traditional food such as tourtière, attendance at church, and the opening of gifts.

In families where a divorce has occurred, children may spend one day with one part of the family, and the next with the other. In extended families where two branches of the family reside within a reasonable driving distance, many families may choose to spend Christmas Eve with the maternal side of the family and Christmas Day with the paternal side, or vice-versa. Most Christmas stories start or take place on this day.

In the Philippines, the predominantly Roman Catholic Christian country in Asia, Christmas Eve is usually celebrated by attending the "Rooster's Mass or Misa del Gallo. Misa del Gallo is the Holy Mass celebrated hours before the clock ticks 12 A.M. that signifies the arrival of December 25 Christmas Day. After attending church, Filipino families usually hold a feast named Noche Buena to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. A great variety of food is eaten during this feast, an event that usually is done with great preparation. Foods being prepared include the famous Lechon, Quezo de Bola, Jamon, Roast Chicken (turkey did not gain much popularity in the Philippines), Barbecued meats, Pancit among many others. Despite the fact that some families are poor, they still find a way to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ through eating, family time and merry-making.

Declaration of Christmas Peace

Further information: Christmas truce

Declaration of Christmas Peace has been a tradition in Finland from the Middle Ages every year, except in 1939 due to the Winter War. The declaration takes place on the Old Great Square of Turku, Finland's official Christmas City and former capital, at noon on Christmas Eve. It is broadcast in Finnish radio (since 1935) and television and nowadays also in some foreign countries.

The declaration ceremony begins with the hymn Jumala ompi linnamme (Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) and continues with the Declaration of Christmas Peace read from a parchment roll:

"Tomorrow, God willing, marks the most gracious feast of the birth of our Lord and Saviour, and therefore a general Christmas peace is hereby declared, and all persons are directed to observe this holiday with due reverence and otherwise quietly and peacefully to conduct themselves, for whosoever breaks this peace and disturbs the Christmas holiday by any unlawful or improper conduct shall be liable, under aggravating circumstances, to whatever penalty is prescribed by law and decree for each particular offence or misdemeanour. Finally, all citizens are wished a joyous Christmas holiday."

Recently, there is also a declaration of Christmas peace for forest animals in many cities and municipalities, so there is no hunting during Christmas.

See also

cs:Štědrý den de:Heiliger Abend es:Nochebuena fr:Réveillon de Noël ko:크리스마스 이브 it:Vigilia di Natale hr:Badnjak he:ערב חג המולד lt:Kūčios nl:Kerstavond ja:クリスマス・イヴ nb:Julaften nn:Julaftan pl:Wigilia Bożego Narodzenia pt:Véspera de Natal ru:Сочельник fi:Jouluaatto sv:Julafton uk:Святий Вечір zh:平安夜

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