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If there's anything better than Christmas, it's Christmas Eve; the best night of the year!
Christmas Eve is on December 24 and marks the culmination of the Advent period before Christmas that starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Eve. Many churches mark the end of Advent with midnight church services. During modern times, it is popularly celebrated on the night before Christmas Day.
HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS EVE
The tradition of celebrating Christmas Eve derives partly from Christan liturgy starting at sunset, which is inherited from Jewish tradition and based on the Book of Genesis’s Story of Creation, saying the first day starts in the evening and ends in the morning. It is also believed that Jesus, or Jesus of Nazareth, was born at midnight in the region of Palestine. Many historical conceptions on ancient traditions contributed to the development of eve celebrations, which persisted in the early Christian calendar.
Christmas Eve marks the end of the Advent season, the period of preparation for Christmas, which begins on November 30, or November 15 in the East. It was on this night that the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks outside Bethlehem saw the bright star in the sky that signaled the birth of Jesus Christ. This is why many churches have services beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. From the 12th to the 15th century, due to the Holy Inquisition, Christian traditions were made mandatory. During the 16th century, the church was influenced by the Winter Solstice celebrations and began Christmas preparations the night prior.
In many parts of Europe, people believe that at midnight on Christmas Eve, animals briefly possess the power of speech. It might have been the traditional association of the ox and the donkey in the Nativity scene that gave rise to such superstitions, but the concept of talking animals is probably pagan in origin. A closely related belief, widespread in England and Europe, is that cattle rise in their stalls at midnight on Christmas Eve, or kneel to worship the Christ child.
Despite its Christian significance, there are a number of pagan and supernatural beliefs connected with Christmas Eve. In Scandinavian countries, it is believed that the dead revisit their former homes on Christmas Eve. People make sure that their parlors are tidy and that a good fire is burning before they go to bed. They often light candles, set the table, and leave out plenty of food for their ghostly visitors. They also make sure that the seats of their chairs have been dusted. When they get up in the morning, they wipe the chairs again with a clean white towel. If they find any dirt on the seat, it means that a relative fresh from the grave sat there during the night.
Celebrating Christmas as a holiday became popular in the 19th century. Christmas Eve remains an important part of Christian culture and signifies the birth of Jesus. It has become even more popular within the last century thanks to a beloved icon: Santa Claus. The idea of the jolly man in red gave rise to more traditions such as hanging stockings and leaving out cookies, milk, and sometimes carrots for his reindeer.
Apart from Santa Claus and Christianity, Christmas Eve took on another significance — it also became a day made for spending time with family and loved ones over dinner, decorating, gift wrapping, and Christmas-themed movies. The holiday unites families and friends, allowing them to get together and enjoy special and traditional activities, from Europe, North- and Latin America, to Asia.
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CHRISTMAS EVE AROUND THE WORLD
Christmas Eve is a special holiday celebrated around the world, just before Christmas Day begins. Here are some other winter holidays across the globe.
Christmas Eve Around the World
|Three Kings Day
|Celebrated most in Spain and Latin America, but also across Europe, 'El Dia de los Reyes,' as it’s called in Spanish, marks the adoration of baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men.
|Hanukkah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime ‘festival of lights,’ celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers, and fried foods.
|Scandinavia and Europe
|Yule is a Germanic Winter festival that dates back as far as the 4th century. In modern times, this holiday has been reformulated by Christians and renamed Christmastide. Although most of the elements of this holiday were absorbed into Christmas traditions, many neopagans and Wiccans have resurrected the holiday.
|December 21 – January 1
|St. Nicholas Day
|A popular December holiday in many European countries, St. Nicholas Day, celebrates St. Nicholas of Myra, the man whose life inspired the tradition of Santa Claus and Father Christmas. He gave all of his money to the needy and was known for his compassion for children, and all those in need. The holiday honors the man on the anniversary of his death in 343 A.D. Many celebrate with parades, feasts, gift-giving, and festivals.
CHRISTMAS EVE TRADITIONS
On the night of Christmas Eve, children around the world leave food and a drink for whoever comes to their house and brings them presents. Who this is depends on what part of the world you live in. It might be Santa Claus or Father Christmas who delivers the presents. In Switzerland, it’s the Christchild. In Denmark, it’s the Christmas elf. In Sweden, it’s a small man. And in Finland, it’s the Christmas goat!
In Latvia, the custom is that you can open the presents under the Christmas tree after the Christmas Eve dinner, with a slight twist — before the gift is accepted, the person receiving it has to recite a small poem.
CHRISTMAS EVE BY THE NUMBERS
32.8 million – the number of real Christmas trees sold in America during the year 2018.
49% – nearly half of Americans don’t buy Christmas decorations, according to a Statista survey.
46% – fortunately, nearly half of Americans don’t mind lying to protect their loved ones’ feelings when they don’t like a gift.
$1,496 – the average spent by U.S. households during the Christmas holidays in 2019, down from 2018.
22% – the amount of Americans that believe their Christmas spending will leave them in debt.
1 billion – the approximate number of cookies Santa gets around the world on Christmas Eve.
500 million – the number of glasses of milk left out worldwide on Christmas Eve, since Santa needs something to wash his cookies down.
1,800 miles – the speed Santa travels per second if we assume that he has to travel 316899308.041 miles on Christmas Eve and that he has 32 hours to do it.
500 million – the estimated amount of households that Santa has to leave presents at.
8.4 years – the overall age children stop believing in Santa across the United States.
literally means ‘the day before Christmas.’
CHRISTMAS EVE ACTIVITIES
No matter your obligations for the night, where you are, or who you are spending it with, take the time to have dinner with the people close to you. Prepare some food or order it, have some desserts, and enjoy the conversation and the company!
Secret Santa / secret friend
Many countries share the tradition of giving and receiving gifts, and though it’s usually saved for Christmas Day, Secret Santas are great for Christmas Eve. Organize a Secret Santa with your friends and spread the Christmas spirit.
Keep and create traditions
From cooking your favorite childhood Christmas dish and making eggnog to hosting an annual movie night with your friends, the Christmas season is the perfect time to start a new tradition.
5 MIND-BLOWING FACTS ABOUT CHRISTMAS EVE
The fastest delivery man
Scientists calculated that Santa has to travel at 650 miles a second to do all his work on Christmas Eve.
A popular tradition in the past century was to sit around and tell scary ghost stories on Christmas Eve.
The Christ candle
On Christmas Eve, the Christ candle in the center of the Advent wreath is traditionally lit in many church services.
The Nativity scene
It is a tradition of Christians to recreate the Nativity scene, including live dramatizations.
Presents come earlier
In some countries, like Australia, Germany, Portland, and some places in Latin America, presents are exchanged and opened on Christmas Eve rather than at Christmas.
WHY WE LOVE CHRISTMAS EVE
Light even in the darkest times
For Christians, Christmas is the reminder that God loves humanity so much that he sent his Son to save them and forgive their sins. So even in the darkest time, and just as in World War I, Christmas Eve is the night that lights up the world.
Even people who aren’t religious celebrate Christmas and take the time to go home to spend time with family and see friends they haven’t seen all year.
An opportunity to give love
Beyond any commercial and material reason, Christmas Eve is the perfect night to give and receive love. Some loving and kind gifts include your company, your support, food for homeless animals, donations to organizations and churches, and more.
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