Christmas eve Celebrations

Christmas eve Celebrations

Christmas Eve is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. Elements common to many areas of the world include the attendance of special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmastime is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St. Nicholas Day, St. Stephen's Day, New Year's, and the Feast of the Epiphany.

Christmas Eve is the evening or day before Christmas Day, occurring on December 24 in Western Christianity and the secular world.Christmas Day is observed around the world, and Christmas Eve is widely observed as a full or partial holiday in anticipation of Christmas Day. Together, both days are considered one of the most culturally significant celebrations in Christendom and Western society.

Christmas celebrations have long begun on the night of the 24th, due in part to the Christian liturgical day starting at sunset, a practice inherited from Jewish tradition and based on the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis: "And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day." Many churches still ring their church bells and hold prayers in the evening; for example, the Nordic Lutheran churches. Since tradition holds that Jesus was born at night (based in Luke 2:6-8), Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve, traditionally at midnight, in commemoration of his birth.The idea of Jesus being born at night is reflected in the fact that Christmas Eve is referred to as Heilige Nacht (Holy Night) in German, Nochebuena (the Good Night) in Spanish and similarly in other expressions of Christmas spirituality, such as the song "Silent Night, Holy Night".

Many other varying cultural traditions and experiences are also associated with Christmas Eve around the world, including the gathering of family and friends, the singing of Christmas carols, the illumination and enjoyment of Christmas lights, trees, and other decorations, the wrapping, exchange and opening of gifts, and general preparation for Christmas Day. Legendary Christmas gift-bearing figures including Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Christkind, and Saint Nicholas are also often said to depart for their annual journey to deliver presents to children around the world on Christmas Eve, although until the Protestant introduction of Christkind in 16th-century Europe, such figures were said to instead deliver presents on the eve of Saint Nicholas' feast day (December 6).

During the Reformation in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date of giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve.It is the night when Santa Claus makes his rounds delivering gifts to good children. Many trace the custom of giving gifts to the Magi who brought gifts for the Christ child in the manger.

In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Hungary, where Saint Nicholas (sv. Mikuláš/szent Mikulás) gives his sweet gifts on December 6, the Christmas gift-giver is the Child Jesus (Ježíšek in Czech, Jézuska in Hungarian, Ježiško in Slovak and Isusek in Croatian).

In most parts of Austria, Germany, Poland and Switzerland, presents are traditionally exchanged on the evening of December 24. Children are commonly told that presents were brought either by the Christkind (German for Christ child),or by the Weihnachtsmann. Both leave the gifts, but are in most families not seen doing so. In Germany, the gifts are also brought on 6 December by "the Nikolaus" with his helper Knecht Ruprecht.

In Finland, Joulupukki, in Norway Julenissen and in Sweden Jultomten, personally meets children and gives presents in the evening of Christmas Eve.

In Argentina, Austria, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, the Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Quebec, Romania, Uruguay, Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, 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 Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, English Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, this occurs mostly on the morning of Christmas Day.

In other Latin American countries, people stay awake until midnight, when they open the presents.

In Spain, gifts are traditionally opened on the morning of January 6, Epiphany day ("Día de Los Tres Reyes Magos"),though in some other countries, like Argentina and Uruguay, people receive presents both around Christmas and on the morning of Epiphany day.

In Belgium and the Netherlands Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas and his companion Zwarte Piet deliver presents to children and adults alike on the evening of December 5, the eve of his nameday.On December 24 they go to church or watch the late-night mass on TV, or have a meal.

Some observant Jews carry over medieval European traditions of treating Christmas Eve as a "Nittel Nacht", a minor folk (sad) holiday with its own unique customs.

Beginning no later than the 1500s, a number of Jewish customs developed around Christmas Eve, often reflecting feelings of mourning over the historic birth of Christianity and fear of pogroms by contemporary Christian neighbors. By the 17th century, European Jews began referring to the night as "Nittel Nacht" and treating it as a kind of minor day of mourning.

Most prominent among these customs is the tradition not to engage in Torah study on Nittel Nacht. Some have theorized that this custom developed out of fear of heightened antisemitic persecution on Christmas Eve, with Jews avoiding synagogues and study halls where they would be easy targets, and instead opting to spend the night safe at home.

Less popular is a custom not to engage in marital relations on Nittel Nacht. This custom, as well as that of not studying Torah, are similar to the traditions of mourning practiced on Tisha B'av.

With Torah study off the table for the evening, a number of traditions developed as to how to spend the evening. Most well-known is a custom of playing cards, dreidel, chess or other table games. (Some modern synagogues hold poker nights on Christmas Eve, in a continuation of this once home-bound tradition.) The Lubavitcher Rebbe was known to spend his Nittel Nachts sewing. Some spend the night ripping a year's worth of toilet paper and paper towels, a task helpful for the observance of certain Sabbath laws.

Today, most Jews do not fear antisemitic attacks on Christmas Eve, and most Jews hold a more ecumenical view towards the birth of Christianity, so observance of Nittel Nacht is less popular than it once was. However, many yeshivas still do not conduct Torah classes on Christmas Eve, and card-playing remains a well known Nittel Nacht pastime.

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..."

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