Christmas Eve takes place on December 24 and is probably one of the best nights of the year! Christmas has the power to reunite families and friends, warm up our hearts, and remind us that we have so many things to be thankful for. So put on your cozy PJs, light up your fireplace, call your loved ones, and top off your hot cocoa with some fluffy marshmallows!
When is Christmas Eve 2023?
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.
Christmas Eve timeline
The Christmas carol 'Silent Night' is performed for the first time in public in the Austrian village of Oberndorf on Christmas Eve at a midnight mass in the Saint Nicholas Church.
In World War I, as a manifestation of the Christmas spirit, French, German, and British troops lay down their arms, and soldiers initiate a ceasefire, sharing cigarettes and whiskey.
Astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission become the first humans to orbit the Moon, it is broadcasted live on Christmas Eve.
The world's largest Santa, measuring 21.08 m (69.16 ft.) tall, 9.18 m (30.12 ft.) wide and 12.62 m (41.4 ft.) deep, goes on display in the Municipality of Águeda in Portugal.
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.
Christmas Eve FAQs
What do you do on Christmas Eve?
On Christmas Eve, many families get together to enjoy a big family dinner. When children are asleep, parents and grandparents sneakily put presents under the tree from Santa.
What time is Christmas Eve?
Originally, Christmas Eve was celebrated on the night before Christmas, however, over time, it has become a full-day affair.
Why is it called Christmas Eve?
The word ‘eve’ means the day or period of time before an occasion or event. So Christmas Eve 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.
Christmas Eve dates