Popular Christmas Eve traditions are matching Christmas pajamas and hanging Christmas stockings from the fireplace. But in some parts of the world, Christmas Eve is celebrated with gift-giving. Although most people are familiar with Christmas Eve traditions, some are less widely known.
1. Hanging Christmas Stockings
For many families, one of the favorite Christmas Eve traditions is the hanging of stockings. The evening before Christmas is a time for children to put out their stockings together with Christmas crafts by the fireplace or in another spot where Santa Claus can see them as he makes his way around the world, delivering presents to all good little boys and girls.
The tradition dates back to medieval times when people would hang small bags filled with treats on their doors after they had gone to bed. If a child woke up hungry during the night, she could take something from the bag without leaving the bed or disturbing anyone else in the house.
2. A Visit from Santa Claus
As depicted in countless books and movies, the Christmas Eve tradition of Santa coming down the chimney has its roots in Germany. Before there were chimneys, German children would leave out a bowl of hay and milk for St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, who would reward them with gifts. Later on, when people began building chimneys in their homes, they started putting up stockings instead of leaving bowls of hay and milk for him to fill with goodies.
Since the tradition had already been established for centuries, he was still called St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. In most European countries today, parents dress up as St. Nicholas and go from house to house visiting children (or at least those who’ve been good). They bring presents for each child and often leave coal for those who’ve been naughty (but not as much coal as Americans do).
Ringing church bells on Christmas Eve is one Christmas Eve tradition that dates back to the early Middle Ages. Back then, people believed that evil spirits roamed freely on this night until midnight when they would be driven away by the ringing bells!
3. Lighting Up the Tree With Christmas Lights
Christmas tree lights date back to the early 1800s when Queen Victoria took part in what was known as a “tree feast” in Windsor Castle. At this event, she decorated an evergreen with candles and hung ornaments on them. The custom became one of the favorite Christmas Eve traditions in America and Europe. By the mid-19th century, trees were decorated with Christmas lights in churches and homes worldwide.
Today, many families enjoy decorating their Christmas tree together on Christmas Eve. After finishing their decorations, they’ll often light candles or place Christmas lights on the branches. Then they’ll sing carols and read Christmas stories before tucking into a special holiday meal together.
4. The Wassail Bowl
The Wassail Bowl is one of the Christmas Eve traditions that has been around for hundreds of years. It is a way to welcome and bless the home with good luck and prosperity. The Wassail Bowl is traditionally made out of wood but can also be made from ceramic or other materials. The bowl should be large enough to hold about two gallons of punch. The bottom should have three nails sticking up inside it.
The Wassail Bowl can be decorated however you like, but it’s always best to leave room for some decorations that symbolize family and friends. Some people like to use apples in their Wassail Bowls, while others prefer oranges or lemons. It is used at Christmas Eve parties throughout the United Kingdom every year during December. It’s usually served with hot cider or mulled wine and sometimes brandy, rum, or whiskey, depending on what type of punch you’re making!
5. Christmas Carol
The tradition of Christmas caroling goes back hundreds of years. The word “carol” comes from the Latin word “chorus,” which means song or poem sung by several people at once.
In Medieval times, carols were sung by priests who traveled from village to village during winter. They would sing songs about their faith and perform religious plays in exchange for food or money (or both). Some villages even held contests on Christmas Eve between different groups of singers to see who could perform the best!
Today we still enjoy singing carols, but there’s no competition involved! It’s just an excuse to have fun with friends and the whole family while spreading Christmas cheer!
6. Midnight Mass
Going to midnight mass is probably one of the most famous Christmas Eve traditions. Churches all over the world hold services on Christmas Eve. They’re usually packed with people who want to celebrate the holiday season with their community. Many churches also offer special services focusing on family and children, such as a children’s choir performing or a Santa Claus walking through the church handing out candy canes.
7. Christmas Movies
It’s a tradition for many families to watch a favorite Christmas movie on Christmas Eve. Some classics have become part of our culture. You can even go on a movie marathon.
1. A Christmas Story
The quintessential holiday movie about Ralphie Parker’s quest for an air rifle, this is one for the whole family to watch together. The 1983 film made an impact on pop culture that continues today with annual screenings and merchandise.
A 2003 comedy starring Will Ferrell as a human raised by elves in New York City, this film has become a staple of Christmas Eve viewing. It also features James Caan as Santa Claus and Peter Dinklage as a disgruntled elf named Buddy. This is a must-watch on Christmas Eve.
3. Home Alone
Another holiday classic with a young boy losing his family to vacation plans gone awry, this 1990 comedy stars Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister. He has to defend his home from two burglars played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.
4. Miracle on 34th Street
This classic tale of a man claiming to be Kris Kringle has been remade twice. However, it remains true to its original source material (written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Valentine Davies).
This horror comedy film tells the story of a young man who receives an adorable Mogwai as a gift for Christmas. He quickly learns that feeding it after midnight will turn it into a dangerous creature known as a “Gremlin.” Gremlins feature several dark moments and scenes that are sure to scare young children. It also has plenty of laughs for adults.
6. Polar Express
Based on the beloved Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, this 2004 film follows a young boy who takes a magical train ride to the North Pole with Santa Claus himself. It features voice work by Tom Hanks, who also directed the film, and many of his friends, including Michael J. Fox and Jennifer Aniston, who play elves at Santa’s workshop.
7. The Snowman
A British animated classic from 1982 (voiced by Peter Ustinov), this movie is about a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life as he sleeps in front of it on Christmas Eve. The snowman is gone when he wakes up on Christmas morning. It was based on Raymond Briggs’ book of the same name (Briggs also wrote Ethel & Ernest).
8. The Feast of the Seven Fishes
Christmas Eve is the traditional time to feast on seafood. It can be a fun way to bring your family together, and it’s a delicious meal. The feast originated in Italy when fishermen would come home from work on Christmas Eve, and their wives would prepare a special feast for them.
They would have seven different kinds of seafood: fish, shellfish, crabmeat, and lobster. You can make your version by selecting five or six types of seafood that go well together.
Like many Italian-American Christmas Eve traditions, this one has roots in Sicily and Naples, where seafood was a staple part of their diet.
9. Read the Nativity Story
This is a great tradition to start with young children because it teaches them about Jesus’ birth and helps them understand what Christmas is. It also allows you to teach them more about God while they’re still young enough to listen.
10. Make Gingerbread House
Kids love making a gingerbread house on Christmas Eve Day and will love eating them more! There are several different ways of making cookies. These delicious treats include graham crackers or even plain sugar cookies. The possibilities are endless when decorating your gingerbread house so let your imagination run wild!
11. Advent Calendar
Next on the Christmas Eve traditions list is opening the advent calendar’s last door.
In Germany and Austria, advent calendars often feature windows that reveal small Christmas-themed items such as chocolate Santas, gingerbread cookies, or small toys. In these countries, children use their advent calendars to count down the last few days before Christmas. Other countries have similar Christmas Eve traditions but with different themes. For example, in Norway, children count down the days until Christmas by opening doors that reveal elves who bring presents for them each day leading up to Christmas.
12. White Elephant Exchange
A white elephant exchange is a fun way to spread holiday cheer by bringing together friends who have interesting things but don’t want them anymore. Each person brings a gift they don’t want or need anymore, wraps it up, and puts it in a pile where everyone can pick whatever they want! It’s a great way to recycle those unwanted gifts so someone else can get some use out of them instead of throwing them away!
13. Share Oplatek
Oplatek is one of the oldest Polish Christmas Eve traditions. It is a thin, unleavened wafer given to family members, friends, and neighbors during Christmas Eve dinner. It symbolizes unity and peace among people who are sharing this moment together.
The main idea is that oplatek should be broken by everyone present at the dinner and eaten as part of their meal. The exact origin of oplatek is unknown, but it has been linked to the tradition of breaking bread during the Holy Eucharist. However, the most probable explanation connects this tradition with an ancient Slavic custom called “opłatki,” which was practiced the night before Christmas Eve (December 24).
As this celebration was held in secret, it was often referred to as “opłatka” or “opłatek,” meaning something hidden or covered. In time, this name evolved into our word “oplatek” or “oplatka” which means wafer or cookie in English.
14. Write Christmas Cards
It’s one of the best Christmas Eve traditions that dates back to at least the early 1900s when people sent out greeting cards in December to let friends and family know they were thinking of them during the Christmas season. Today, most people send Christmas cards between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, but some send them as late as New Year’s Eve.
15. Lighting the Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is a circular wreath made up of four candles and four different colored ribbons that correspond with the four Sundays preceding Christmas. It symbolizes the journey from darkness to light as we prepare for Christ’s birth. Making DIY wreaths are great Christmas crafts activities that families can do together.
16. Christmas Pickle
The tradition of the Christmas Pickle started in Pennsylvania Dutch country, where people believed that a pickled cucumber placed near the front door would ward off evil spirits and witches on Christmas Eve. The tradition spread to other parts of America and eventually to Europe.
Today, many people still follow this tradition and leave a pickle on their doorstep on Christmas Eve to protect their homes from danger or bad luck. Some people even leave a little bowl of vinegar beside their pickle to help keep away any unwanted guests who might try to sneak into your home while you’re asleep!
17. Christmas Eve Dinner
In many parts of Europe, Christmas Eve dinner is eaten at midday rather than at dinnertime. The main dish is roast goose or duck (or both). In Sweden, Christmas Eve dinner includes pickled herring or other fish dishes.
In many European countries, families open presents on Christmas Eve instead of on Christmas morning because it’s believed that Santa Claus visits children on this night rather than after their birthdays (which are celebrated on New Year’s Day).
Dinner is a great way to celebrate the holiday season with your family member and friends, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. If you want a more formal meal, ensure everyone dresses up in their best clothes and enjoys a nice meal together.
If you want something less formal, consider ordering pizza or going out for Chinese food as an alternative to cooking at home.
All in all, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are special occasions in our lives. We spend time together, relax, have fun, and just be with our loved ones. Most of the Christmas eve traditions listed above help us keep this reality in perspective. These may not be the same Christmas traditions you associate with Christmas Day, but they are ours and keep these fun Christmas Eve traditions meaningful for us year after year. Merry Christmas!
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