Christmas Eve in the United States, which is annually on December 24, is the day before Christmas Day. It falls within the Christmas season, which is a time for people to buy presents and visit friends or relatives.
What do people do?
Since Christmas Eve is not an official holiday, most people have to work. However, many workplaces hold Christmas parties or celebrations, so there is a celebratory air to the day. People who work in the retail or catering sectors often have to work very hard to meet consumer demands on December 24.
Many people in the United States decorate their homes and driveways with seasonal decorations, although some do this much earlier, starting just after Thanksgiving Day in late November. The centerpiece of the decorations is often a Christmas tree decorated with fairy lights, tinsel, angels, stars and other seasonal ornaments. Outdoor light sculptures are also becoming increasingly popular. These are many light bulbs or LEDs in the form of trees, sleighs, reindeer, Santa Claus, snowmen and other seasonal figures. Light sculptures may be placed on driveways, roofs or in gardens.
In the evening, often just before bedtime, many families, particularly those with children, will hang up stockings on the fireplace or the end of their bed. These Christmas stockings are often red with a white fluffy trim, although they may be of any design and are often much bigger than the socks that they represent. Children hope that Santa Claus, a mythical figure thought to represent an ancient European saint, will enter their home via the chimney and fill their stocking with gifts, sweets and oranges.
Christmas Eve is not a federal holiday. However, schools and other educational establishments are usually closed. Many organizations will open as usual, but some may close earlier or offer reduced services. Stores are normally open as usual, but may shut earlier. Stores and malls are likely to be very busy, as people look for last minute Christmas gifts and stock up on food for the festive season.
Public transit systems may run a normal or reduced service, particularly in the evening. If you need to use public transit on Christmas Eve, is it a good idea to check the services that the appropriate companies offer carefully. Many people travel to visit family members or friends on Christmas Eve. There may be some congestion on roads and highways, particularly around major cities. Airports and long distance bus terminals may be especially busy.
Christmas Eve marks the start of the holiday season at the end of the year. For many Christians, it is a day to remember the events around the birth of Jesus. Some people, especially Roman Catholics, attend a midnight mass at church. Traditionally, the midnight mass started at midnight, just as Christmas Eve ended and Christmas Day started. However, now may churches hold this church service in the late afternoon or early evening of Christmas Eve.
Many Protestant churches also hold special services on Christmas Eve. These are often candle-lit and may be very solemn. Some include the presentation of a crib scene depicting the holy family, with statues or actors representing Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds and various animals thought to be present in the stable where Jesus was born.
On Christmas Eve in 1914 and 1915, unofficial Christmas truces began in the World War I fighting. German soldiers lit candles and sung Christmas carols. On the other side, British troops responded by singing English carols. Soldiers from both sides shouted greeting and visited each other, sometimes exchanging small gifts. On Christmas Eve in 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 read from the creation story in the Book of Genesis. This was widely broadcast on television.
What do people do?
Many people around the world celebrate Christmas Eve in different ways. It is observed in many countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Workers in some countries get a day off or half-day off to prepare for Christmas Day, including last-minute shopping for presents, decorations or food. In some countries Christmas Eve is celebrated with large family meals featuring traditional Christmas dishes. In some cultures, presents are exchanged and opened on the night of Christmas Eve. Many homes have their Christmas trees lit up, mistletoes hung, and other Christmas decorations, such as holly and ivy, at this time of the year.
Some people organize groups of singers who go Christmas caroling from door to door, or sing Christmas carols in public venues. It is also a time for children in many countries around the world to hang their Christmas stockings (or pillow cases), hoping for a present to arrive from Santa Claus on Christmas Day, which is December 25 in the Gregorian calendar. Children in France set out their shoes near a fireplace on Christmas Eve because they believe that Father Christmas (Santa Claus), also known as le Père Noël (in French), will arrive before dawn and fill them with toys, nuts and sweets.
Many churches hold special services during Christmas Eve, including midnight services. These services include special choirs and sermons to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Many churches also display a crèche or miniature Nativity scene. Christmas celebrations in different countries combine the country’s cultural traditions, beliefs and superstitions with more contemporary customs, such as Santa Claus and Christmas trees.
Christmas Eve is a public holiday in countries such as the Czech Republic and Estonia. Some banks and businesses are closed in some countries, including Austria and Germany, on Christmas Eve. Many people in countries such as Brazil have the afternoon off work on Christmas Eve.
Some stores are often open late to accommodate for last-minute Christmas shopping in some cities around the world. Schools and educational institutions are usually closed on Christmas Eve as it falls as part of either the winter (northern hemisphere) or summer (southern hemisphere) vacation period. Airports, bus stations and train stations may be busy as many people travel to visit their families around this time of the year.
Christmas Eve, also known as the Vigil of Christmas, is perceived as the culmination of the Advent season. Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas Day and is associated with celebrating Jesus Christ’s birth, although his actual birth date has been disputed among many scholars. However, many Christmas traditions that are around today have their roots in pre-Christian winter festivals. These include the importance of candles and decorations made from evergreen bushes and trees, symbolizing everlasting light and life.
In Roman times, a mid-winter festival was held. This was a relaxing time with a lot of parties and merry making. It was also common to give other people small gifts, such as dolls for children and candles for adults. This festival culminated with the celebration of the winter solstice, which fell on December 25 in the Roman calendar.
Since pagan times, it was customary to decorate with greenery on festivals, especially with holly, ivy, and mistletoe. After some debate, the church authorities permitted it to be done on Christian festivals, at least from the early seventh century in England. Holly and ivy were associated with good and evil, or male and female, and so were often combined. Mistletoe has pagan associations. For example, the druids of Gaul regarded mistletoe growing on oak trees as sent from heaven.
Images of Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, snowmen, reindeer, and candy canes are seen in cards, posters, signs and other printed or marketing material associated with the Christmas celebrations. Images of baby Jesus, the Christmas star, and other symbols associated with the religious meaning of Christmas are also seen during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.