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Christmas Eve, December 24, is the night before Christmas Day, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.

Religious traditions

Western Churches

Many Roman Catholics and Anglicans traditionally celebrate a midnight Mass (Eucharist) which begins either at or sometime before midnight on Christmas Day; this ceremony, which is held in churches throughout the world, marks the beginning of Christmas Day. A popular joke is to ask what time Midnight Mass starts, but in recent years some churches have scheduled their "Midnight" Mass as early as 7 p.m. In Spanish-speaking areas, the Midnight Mass is sometimes referred to as Misa del Gallo or "Missa do Galo", in Portuguese ("Rooster's Mass"). In the Philippinesmarker, this custom lasts for nine days, starting on December 16 and continuing daily up to December 24, during which Filipinos attend dawn masses, usually starting at around 4:00-5:00 a.m.

Lutheran parishes often carry on Christmas Eve traditions typical for Germany and Scandinavia. "Krippenspiele" (nativity plays), special festive music for organ, vocal and brass choirs and candlelight services make Christmas Eve one of the highlights in the Lutheran Church calendar. Christmas Vespers are popular in the early evening, and midnight services are also widespread in regions which are predominately Lutheran. The old Lutheran tradition of a Christmas Vigil in the early morning hours of the 25th of December (Christmette) can still be found in some regions of Germany. In eastern and middle Germanymarker many congregations still continue the tradition of "Quempas singing": separate groups dispersed in various parts of the church sing verses of the song "He whom Shepherds once came Praising" (Quem pastores) responsively.

Methodists celebrate the evening in different ways. Some, in the early evening, come to their church to celebrate Holy Communion with their families. The mood is very solemn, and often the only visible light is the Advent Wreath, and the candles upon the Lord's Table. Others celebrate the evening with services of light, which often include singing the song "Silent Night" as a variety of candles (including personal candles) are lit. Other churches have late evening services at 11 pm, so that the church can celebate Christmas Day together with the ringing of bells at 12 am. Others offer Christmas Day services as well. Each church is welcome to celebrate Christmas Eve evening and Christmas Day in their own special way.

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

Other churches also hold a candlelight service, which is also 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 or Christmas Day.


Traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal.

In Polandmarker, traditional Christmas Eve meals include one or more of the following foods: Golabki filled with Kasza, Pierogi, Borscht, fish soup, carp, and pickled Herring. Krupnik is sometimes drunk after dinner.

In Czech Republicmarker and Slovakiamarker, the meal features a cabbage soup and breaded roasted carp with potato salad. Italian Catholics eat seven types of seafood. In some parts of Eastern Europe such as Polandmarker and Lithuaniamarker, a traditional meatless 12-dishes Christmas Eve Supper is served before opening gifts. Cubans, Dominicansmarker, and Puerto Ricans serve roast pork (pernil).

A symbolic Christmas Eve meal used to be a common Eastern Orthodox tradition in the Russian Empiremarker, but today it has become virtually extinct in Russia as a result of the official atheism of the former Soviet Unionmarker; though it continues to be popular in Ukrainemarker.

On Christmas Eve in Bulgariamarker the meal consists of an odd number of lenten dishes in compliance with the rules of fasting. They usually are the traditional sarma, bob chorba (bean soup), fortune pita (pastry with a fortune in it), stuffed peppers, nuts. The meal is often accompanied with wine or Bulgaria's traditional alcoholic beverage rakia.

By the Christmas traditions of the Serbs, this festive meal is copious and diverse in foods, although it is prepared in accordance with the rules of fasting. Besides a round, unleavened loaf of bread and salt, which are necessary, this meal may comprise e.g. roast fish, cooked beans, sauerkraut, noodles with ground walnuts, honey, and wine.

In Francemarker and some other French-speaking areas, a long family dinner, called a réveillon, is held on Christmas Eve. The name of this dinner is based on the word réveil (meaning "waking"), because participation involves staying awake until midnight and beyond. The food consumed at réveillons is generally of an exceptional or luxurious nature. For instance, appetizers may include lobster, oysters, escargots or foie gras, etc. One traditional dish is turkey with chestnuts. Réveillons in Québecmarker will often include some variety of tourtière. Dessert may consist of a bûche de Noël. In Provence, the tradition of the 13 desserts is followed: 13 desserts are served, almost invariably including: pompe à l'huile (a flavoured bread), date, etc. Quality wine is usually consumed a such dinners, often with champagne or similar sparkling wines as a conclusion.

In Germanymarker traditions vary from region to region. Carp is eaten in many parts of the country. Potato salad with frankfurter or wiener sausages is popular in some families. Another simple meal which some families favour, especially in regions where Christmas Eve still has the character of a fast day, is vegetable or pea soup. In some regions, especially in Schleswig-Holsteinmarker where Danish influence is noticeable, a roasted duck or goose filled with plums, apples and raisins is family tradition. In other regions, especially in Mecklenburg and Pomerania, many families prefer kale with boiled potatoes, special sausages and ham. Many families have developed new traditions for themselves and eat such meals as meat fondue or raclette. In almost all families in all parts of Germany you find a wide variety of Christmas cookies baked according to recipes typical for the family and the region.

In Denmarkmarker the most common meal is roast duck or pork although goose or turkey are also popular. In many families more than one kind of meat is served. The meat is served with gravy, boiled potatoes, sugar glazed potatoes and red cabbage. For dessert a rice and almond pudding with cherry sauce is served. A whole almond is hidden in the pudding. The person who gets the almond wins a small gift.

In the Republic of Macedoniamarker and Bulgariamarker, a coin is concealed in a bread loaf and the host breaks a piece of the loaf at the dinner table for each member of the household: it is believed that the one who gets the piece of bread with the coin will be fortunate in the forthcoming year. The dinner is according to the rules of fasting: fish, baked beans, sauerkraut, walnuts and red wine are common. The dessert may consist of apples and dried fruits: plums, dates, figs. The table is usually not cleared after the dinner and until the next morning, to leave some food for the holly spirits - a custom which probably comes from pagan pre-Christian times.

Gift giving

Christmas Eve is also seen as the night when Santa Claus (or some variant thereof) makes his rounds delivering gifts to good children. In the Czech Republicmarker, Romaniamarker and Hungarymarker, where St. Nicholas (sveti Mikuláš) gives his sweet gifts on December 5th, the Christmas gift-giver is the Child Jesus (Ježíšek in Czech,Jézuska in Hungarian and Ježiško in Slovakia), also known to most as Christkind. In Argentinamarker, Denmarkmarker, Finlandmarker, Germanymarker, Hungarymarker, Icelandmarker, Norwaymarker, Polandmarker, Portugalmarker, Quebecmarker, Romaniamarker, Uruguaymarker, and Swedenmarker, Christmas presents are opened mostly on the evening of the 24th, - this is also the tradition among the British Royal Family, due to their mainly German ancestry - while in Italymarker, the United Statesmarker, the United Kingdommarker, Irelandmarker, English Canada, South Africa, New Zealandmarker and Australia mostly on the morning of Christmas Day. In Finlandmarker Joulupukki and in Swedenmarker Jultomten personally meets children and gives presents in the evening of Christmas Eve. In most parts of Germanymarker, Austriamarker, and Switzerlandmarker Christmas presents are opened in the evening of December 24 ('Bescherung') and are brought by Christkind or Christchild (or alternatively by the Weihnachtsmann), who leaves the gifts but is never seen doing so. In Spainmarker gifts are traditionally opened on the morning of January 6, Epiphany day ("Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos"), though in some other countries, like Argentinamarker and Uruguaymarker 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. In the Netherlandsmarker gift giving on Christmas Day is a fairly new phenomenon, because of the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas on December 5.

Regional traditions

Latin America

In Latin America Christmas Eve, known in Spanish as La Noche Buena (English translation - the good night) and in Portuguese as Véspera de Natal (English: Christmas Eve), is celebrated by staying up until midnight. At midnight, gifts and presents are opened. Fireworks are also shot off. Fireworks are the main focus of the celebration. It is not a silent night, with families coming together exchanging presents and going to church. After Christmas the children often play with their new presents or go to church with their families.


As in Latin America, Christmas Eve is also known as Nochebuena in Spainmarker. There are two important traditions: attending Christmas Mass, and 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 specialities. 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.

Iceland and Norway

In Icelandmarker and Norwaymarker, Yule (jul/jól) starts on the night of December 24, 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 their family. After that they open gifts and spend the evening pkliz. In Iceland people most often eat hamborgarahryggur and svínabógur.


In Poland the traditional Christmas meal is known as Wigilia ("Vigil"), and being invited to attend a Wigilia dinner with a family is considered a high honour.Before eating everyone exchanges Christmas greetings with each other by giving a piece of Christmas wafer (Opłatki), usually stamped with a religious image, such as the Nativity scene. There is a tradition of having either 7 or 12 (or its multiple) Lenten (meatless) dishes. One has to try every single dish to avoid bad luck next year. Dishes are usually fish based, with carp being very important in Poland. After dinner children open presents from under the Christmas Tree. Later people attend Midnight Mass to solemnly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Serbia, Republika Srpska, and Montenegro

The Serbian Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian, so Christmas Eve (December 24) as celebrated by the Serbs coincides with January 6 on the latter calendar. In Serbian Christmas traditions, the head of household goes in the morning into a forest to select a young, straight oak tree and fell it. A log cut from this tree, up to long, is called badnjak and has an important role in the celebration. It is in the evening ceremoniously taken into the house and laid on the fire that burns on the house’s fireplace called ognjište, whose hearth is without a vertical surround. The burning of the badnjak is accompanied by prayers to God so that the coming year may bring much happiness, love, luck, riches, and food. Since most houses today have no ognjište on which to burn a badnjak, it is symbolically represented by several leaved oak twigs. For the convenience of people who live in towns and cities, they can be bought at marketplaces or received in churches.

The Serbs also take a bundle of straw into the house and spread it over the floor, and then walnuts on it. Before the table is served for the Christmas Eve dinner, it is strewn with a thin layer of straw and covered with a white cloth. The head of household makes the Sign of the Cross, lights a candle, and cense the whole house. The family members sit down at the table, but before tucking in they all rise and a man or boy among them says a prayer, or they together sing the Troparion of the Nativity. After the dinner young people visit their friends, a group of whom may gather at the house of one of them. Christmas and other songs are sung, while the elderly narrate stories from the olden times.

Since the early 1990s, the Serbian Orthodox Church has, together with local communities, organized public celebrations on Christmas Eve. The course of these celebrations can be typically divided into three parts: the preparation, the ritual, and the festivity. The preparation consists of going and cutting down the tree to be used as the badnjak, taking it to the church yard, and preparing drink and food for the assembled parishioners. The ritual includes Vespers, placing the badnjak on the open fire built in the church yard, blessing or consecrating the badnjak, and an appropriate program with songs and recitals. In some parishes they build the fire on which to burn the badnjak not in the church yard but at some other suitable location in their town or village. The festivity consists of getting together around the fire and socializing. Each particular celebration, however, has its own specificities which reflect traditions of the local community, and other local factors. Is it so interesting? i think so !

North America

Most households circulate wrapped gifts in the two weeks before Christmas Day. In North America, gifts are most commonly opened on the morning of Christmas Day; however, families may also choose to open all or some of their presents on Christmas Eve, depending on evolving family traditions, logistics, and the age of the children involved. E.g., minor children might open their presents on Christmas Eve and adults open their presents on Christmas morning, or everyone might open their gifts on Christmas morning. In Quebecmarker and among many french-speaking 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. It is also common tradition throughout North America for children to leave a glass of milk and plate of cookies for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve by the fireplace. Similar traditions occur in Mexicomarker, Central America including El Salvadormarker; however, the name given is, as in Spain, Nochebuena.


In the Philippinesmarker, the predominantly Roman Catholic Christian country in Asia, Christmas Eve is usually celebrated by attending the "Rooster's Mass" or Misa del Gallo which is celebrated hours before the clock ticks 12 A.M. signifying the arrival of 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 lechón, quezo de bola, jamón (Christmas ham), 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.


Most of the traditions, such as Christmas dinner and gift giving, are observed on this day. Santa Claus visits homes in person, played by an older family member or a rent-a-Santa.

The Declaration of Christmas Peace has been a tradition in Finlandmarker from the Middle Ages every year, except in 1939 due to the Winter War. The declaration takes place on the Old Great Square of Turkumarker, Finland's official Christmas City and former capital, at noon on Christmas Eve. It is broadcast on 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, is 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."
The Ceremony ends with trumpets playing the Finnish national anthem Maamme and Porilaisten marssi, with the crowd usually singing when the band plays Maamme.

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

In Finland people usually take a Christmas sauna. The tradition is very old. Unlike on normal days, when going to sauna is in the evening, on Christmas Eve it is before sunset. This tradition has is based on a pre-20th century belief that the spirits of the dead return and have a sauna on the usual sauna hours.


In Sweden, most Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve, including Santa Claus's distribution of Christmas presents. Until the 20th century, presents were instead distributed by the Yule Goat, still today used as Christmas decoration and remembered by the famous Gävle goatmarker. To the days following Christmas, Christmas decoration are put up, and gingerbreads and saffron buns are baked, often homemade. Many people also make gingerbread houses out of lebukchens. Christmas dishes and meals are always served on Julbord , and often contains Christmas ham and the world-famous Janssons frestelse. Many families also see Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul (From All of Us to All of You), Karl Bertil Jonssons julafton, or a re-run of the Svensson, Svensson episode God Jul! (Merry Christmas) on the TV channel SVT1. To the days following Christmas, families light a new light each Sunday each advent. The first advent, many cities across the country have a Christmas-themed parade, with lots of Santa Clauses.


In Denmark, during Christmas Eve an elaborate dinner is eaten with the family, consisting of roast pork, roast duck, or roast goose with potatoes, red cabbage and gravy. For dessert is rice pudding with a cherry sauce, traditionally with an almond hidden inside. The lucky finder of this almond is entitled to a small gift. After the meal is complete, the family gather around the Christmas tree to sing Christmas carols and dance hand in hand around the tree. Then the children often hand out the presents which are opened immediately. This is followed by candy, chips, various nuts, clementines, and sometimes a mulled and spiced wine with almonds and raisins called Gløgg is served hot in small cups.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Santa Claus is traditionally called Father Christmas, although the term Santa Claus is also very popular. In households with younger children the preparations for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve are well established, but will vary depending on individual family traditions. Typically, before going to bed, the children will be involved in leaving some sustenance for Father Christmas and his reindeer. Traditionally this would have consisted of a glass sherry or brandy and a mince pie for Father Christmas and some carrots for the reindeer (many children though fixating on Rudolph). In recent years, the alcoholic drink has become less popular in favour of a non-alcoholic drink like milk. The hanging of stockings by the fireplace before bedtime, to receive the presents from Father Christmas, is a much-loved tradition that is still practised by many (adults and children alike!) although stockings might now be replaced with 'present sacks' or hung in different locations such as by the child's bed.

Very few families open their presents on Christmas Eve (the Royal family being a notable exception) as children are told that Father Christmas will not visit if he knows they're awake. After presents are opened on Christmas morning, preparations are quickly underway for the Christmas lunch where the whole family will gather for 'turkey and all the trimmings' and the obligatory Christmas Crackers. Attendance at a Christmas Day church service continues its inexorable decline. In the UK, watching the Queen's Speech on TV, where the monarch addresses her subjects, is a tradition that still remains hugely important in many households' Christmas Day typically averaging 10 million viewers on TV and 2m listeners via radio.

Historical events

A number of historical events have been influenced by the occurrence of Christmas Eve.

Christmas truce

During World War I in 1914 and 1915 an unofficial Christmas truce took place. The truce began on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypresmarker, Belgiummarker, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols. The two sides shouted Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the "No man's land" where small gifts were exchanged. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Funerals took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in No Man's Land, soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from Psalm 23. The truce occurred in spite of opposition at higher levels of the military command. Earlier in the autumn, a call by Pope Benedict XV for an official truce between the warring governments had been ignored.

Apollo 8 reading from Genesis

On December 24, 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast to that date, the astronauts William Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman of Apollo 8 surprised the world with a reading of the Creation from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the moon. Madalyn Murray O'Hair, an atheist activist, filed a lawsuit under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The suit was dismissed by the US Supreme Courtmarker.

In 1969, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp (Scott # 1371) commemorating the Apollo 8 flight around the moon. The stamp featured a detail of the famous photograph of the Earthrise over the moon (NASA image AS8-14-2383HR) taken by Anders on Christmas Eve, and the words, "In the beginning God..."

Calendar-related events

Christmas Eve parties

The significant amount of vacation travel, and travel back to family homes, means that Christmas Eve is also frequently linked to social events and parties, worldwide.

Jewish singles parties in U.S.

Due to the family gathering and religious worship activities that are central to Christmas Eve for American Christians but which American Jews do not typically engage in, a series of Jewish singles events on the night of December 24 have been created in many major cities.

See also


  1. Cuban Christmas Traditions
  2. Bulgarian Main Courses
  3. Réveillon
  4. German Christmas Vocabulary
  5. Stephen Fry revealed this during a discussion of Christmas traditions during an edition of QI
  6. Day-by-Day Guide to Christmas & New Year in Spain
  7. Christmas Traditions and Holiday Cookies
  8. Eugene Fodor, Fodor's South 1980: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Lousiana, 1979, at p. 87, available at Google Books
  9. Gary Sigley, A Chinese Christmas Story, in Shi-xu, ed., Discourse as Cultural Struggle, 2007, at p. 99, available at Google Books
  10. Adebayo Oyebade, Culture and Customs of Angola, 2007, at pp. 103, 140, available at Google Books
  11. See, e.g., Clubzone, Twas the Night Before Christmas @ Tonic @ Tonic Nightclub Vancouver BC, 2009
  12. See, e.g.,, The College Night Out, 2009
  13. Brenda Lane Richardson, Deciding to Celebrate Christmas, or Not, New York Times, December 16, 1987
  14. Christmas Eve parties now a Jewish tradition, Associated Press (MSNBC), December 23, 2006

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