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Christmas Eve Traditions

The night before Christmas has as many unique traditions as it does people who celebrate it. Marking the end of the Advent Season, Christmas Eve is on December 24th. Here is a look at some of the more popular and prevalent Christmas Eve traditions.

Deck the Halls!

Throughout Europe and in many last-minute American homes, too, families gather to set up their Christmas tree. They also hang garlands of evergreen boughs over the window and wreaths on the doors.

Bayberry Candles

Bayberry candles were first made by the colonists, who discovered that, even though they take longer to make, they burned longer and cleaner than traditional wax candles. Because these candles took so much effort to make, many families began saving them for special occasions. Thus was born the tradition of lighting bayberry candles on Christmas, and reciting the verse: "Bayberry candles burned to the socket, puts luck in the home, food in the larder, and gold in the pocket."

Feast of Seven Fishes

The Feast of Seven Fishes originated in southern Italy and is practiced today by many Italian American families.

In celebration of the birth of baby Jesus, many Roman Catholics do not eat meat on Christmas Eve. Instead, a feast of seafood and shellfish is prepared. Why seven different types of fishes? Tradition tells that it is because God took seven days to create the universe.

Religious Services / Midnight Mass

Many Roman Catholics and Anglicans celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. In Spanish-speaking areas, the Midnight Mass is called Misa del Gallo ("Rooster's Mass"). In Lutheran churches, German and Scandinavian traditions are often practices, such as nativity plays, called "Krippenspiele", and midnight candlelight services. Other Protestant churches also have nativity plays and candlelight services, but usually hold them earlier in the evening. Many Methodist churches celebrate Holy Communion in a solemn service lit only by the candles of the Lord's Table.

In Eastern Christian, the traditional Julian calendar is followed, in which Christmas falls 13 days after the modern Gregorian calendar. A Nativity feast is held, often in the church, followed by an all-night vigil.


An old European custom of singing Christmas songs throughout the village is still commonly practiced in the United States. Carolers, groups of friends or church-goers, will go from door to door, entertaining neighbors with traditional songs and hymns. Residents often give the carolers hot cocoa in return.

Santa Claus

For many families, Christmas Eve also marks the late-night arrival of Santa Claus. Children leave out milk and cookies before they go to bed, for Santa and his reindeer to enjoy. In some families, children open one present before they go to bed -- often a pair of Christmas pajamas. Other families save all the gifts to be opened on Christmas morning.

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Related Articles:
The History of Christmas
The Voices of Christmas
The Christmas Tree
The History of the Advent Calendar
Christmas Traditions: Mistletoe

Add Comment
CURTIS from Illinois, US
18:13 12/23/2010
jenzzzzzz from New Jersey, US
18:29 11/28/2010
I'm Jewish but my mom's side of the family is christian so we go over to my grandma's house and she has a lot of light up houses. Then she makes a delicous meal.
Lynn from Canada
18:52 08/01/2010
On Christmas eve my family drinks hot cocoa with the lights dim and the Christmas tree lights on. Christmas Carols are playing in the background as we tell stories about past Christmases.
Kailey from Colorado, US
20:23 12/21/2009
On CHristmas Eve my family opens all the presents from the family for fun, so there is lots of fun.
Katrina Roe
11:28 12/21/2009
what are all the holidays in the world?
omeyanda from Antigua and Barbuda
11:46 12/16/2009
christmas is great i spend it with famiy and friends we eat, open presents, listen to xmas carols and just enjoy the night
Melanie Mayra from Peru
09:56 12/03/2009
My celebration in Christmas is:I´m going to grandmother´s house, at midnight My family have a dinner , my brother opening presnts, after I´m going to party with my cousin and friends =) "Merry christmas and a happy new year" =) =) =)
shannon from Indiana, US
14:22 10/20/2009
opening presents and feasting and chiling hanging with friends and family
jessica from New Jersey, US
18:07 12/22/2008
opening pressents go to suzannes
Jordan from Florida, US
13:51 12/20/2008
Merry Christmas One and al!

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