On Christmas Eve, we are suspended between two worlds - the world of darkness, sin, and death and the new world of light promised through God’s Messiah. On this day, the season of Advent draws to an end and the waiting and intentional preparation comes to a close. Christmas Eve is our last opportunity to heed the words of Saint John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord.” That is why, traditionally, Christmas Eve is a day for confession. Although we seek on this day to continue to prepare our hearts through confession and introspection, it is hard to contain our excitement because we know what happens at the stroke of midnight - the dawn of a new age comes with the birth of a Savior who will ransom us from sin and death and bring us back to God!
Ways to Celebrate Christmas Eve
Traditionally, on the morning of December 24, most of the preparations for Christmas Day were completed. All cookies and treats had been hidden away. The kitchen looked sober and bare compared to the night before with nothing left out but the makings of a very frugal breakfast and lunch. This is so counter to have we celebrate now but Christmas Eve was one of the strictest fast days of the Christian year. All over the world, many people consumed no more than a cup of coffee and a piece of bread for breakfast and lunch was usually water and a small meatless meal. With these frugal meals, the holy season of Advent drew to a close.
Christmas Eve, before sundown, is the final day of preparation for the Christmas Feast. Use this time to prepare not only your home, food, and clothes, but also to prepare your hearts for the joy to come.
Clean house. As a final act of preparation, it is an Irish and Eastern European tradition to clean your house, return all borrowed items, and fix everything in your house that needs to be repaired.
Read the traditional Advent calendar message - “Today you will know that the Lord is coming to save us and in the morning you will see his Glory!”
Decorate your Christmas Tree. Traditionally, the Christmas Tree is not put up until Christmas Eve in most parts of the world. And when it is put up, it is oftentimes decorated by the parents in secret. When the decorated Christmas tree is revealed to the children, it is with the understanding that the Christ Child has blessed them with the gifts and the decorations.
Refresh the Advent wreath and place the presents under the tree.
Decorate the dining table and set it for a Christmas feast.
Set out all of the cookies and foods you have prepared in advance.
Serve an early Christmas Eve meal. The Christmas Eve meal is the very last moment of Advent. It is one of the two or three most important meals of the Christian year and is lovingly referred to as the “Holy Meal.” It is a time when Christian families reaffirm their bonds of love and solidarity. Like Christmas Eve itself, the Christmas Eve meal, while still preparing us, is full of joyful expectancy and is very celebratory. To reflect this, the Christmas Eve meal is a type of fast within a feast, and meat is traditionally abstained from.
Each country has its beautiful food traditions for this night mostly centering around a fish dish and lavish desserts. Every detail of the meal is rich with meaning. For instance, in many countries, the meal begins when the first star appears in the sky reminding us of the star of Bethlehem. The meal is candlelit with a large white candle in the center of the table symbolizing Christ as the Light of the World. Next to the candle is a round loaf of bread symbolizing Christ as the Bread of Life. Also, there are either twelve courses or twelve desserts served to represent the twelve disciples.
In Slavic countries, the floor and dining table are strewn with straw in honor of the stable, and a white tablecloth representing the swaddling clothes that the infant Jesus was wrapped in is placed over the dining table’s straw. The father breaks thin wafers with religious motifs known as the bread of angels and distributes a piece to each member of the family. As the father distributes the wafer pieces, he kisses each member of his family and wishes them a blessed Christmas. The Christmas Eve meal is a beautiful symbol of love and unity in Christ. An extra place is always set at the table in honor of those who are absent. Traditionally, all members of the household sit down and eat together, including servants.
Ways to Celebrate Christmas Eve
At sundown, we begin to celebrate one of the highest feast days of the Christian year, the Feast of the Nativity. The Feast of the Nativity or Christmas (Christ Mass) is what Advent has been getting us ready for, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Wish everyone a very blessed Christmas!
Attend the Christmas Eve service at your church. If attending the service is impossible, gather the family around the Advent wreath and have an evening devotion.
Place your baby Jesus figurine in the manger.
Light all of your Advent Wreath candles, including the white Christ candle in the middle.
Listen to the Nine Lessons and Carols which is broadcast by the
BBC annually from King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve.
Have an extravagant Christmas Eve meal or Réveillon after church. It is traditional in many countries around the world to have an extravagant feast after midnight mass. In France, the feast is called the Reveillon. The name of this dinner comes from the word réveil (waking) because the light of Christ has burst into our lives waking us from our sleep. Every aspect of this luxurious feast proclaims the goodness of God lavished on us in Christ. The dessert served is
usually a Bûche de Noël or Christmas Log. In Austria and Germany, there is a lavish dinner but the focus is on a special Christmas punch and Stollen, a Christmas bread.
Light candles. Since light has always been a symbol of Jesus, people all over the world use light to represent the birth of Jesus. In the southwestern United States, entire neighborhoods line their streets and walkways on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with luminaries. In many Irish families, candles wreathed in holly are lit in every window on Christmas Eve. In France and England, a three-pronged candelabra is lit representing the Trinity.