Christmas Eve, the day before Christmas, is celebrated on December 24 with much fanfare and enthusiasm all across the world. Across all the countries in the world, Christmas eve is marked with unveiling of the Christmas tree fully decorated with Christmas ornaments and lights, exchange of gifts among family members, an elaborate feast comprising of turkey or lamb and Mass.
Traditionally, Catholic Christians participate in Midnight mass in the churches all over the world on the intervening night of December 24 and December 25. Before the mass, a candlelight service, in which every member of the congregations has a lit candle in his hand, is held in the evening in which the scenes of the Nativity are enacted.
However, in churches which follow the traditions of western Christians, mass is held either in the afternoon or evening. Generally, a Pastor gives the message on Christmas which is followed by singing of Christmas prayers and carols in the praise of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary and Joseph.
An elaborate family feast is something which everyone looks forward to on Christmas Eve as it brings all the members of the family together. The feast may have anything from four to 14 dishes! Though every country has its own traditional dish, turkey or ham remains constant in almost all countries.
In Germany, roasted goose is eaten traditionally while fish soup and carp is consumed in Czech Republic and Slovakia. In Italy, seven types of seafood are eaten by Catholics. Interestingly, a whopping 12 meatless dishes are consumed in Poland and Lithuania. In Spain, prawns or salmon are eaten as starters followed by soup and the main meal may include roast lamb or seafood.
This is something which all children throughout the world look forward to. Barring some countries like Czech Republic, where St Nicholas leaves gifts for children on St Nicholas day on December 6, and Spain, where children receive gifts on the Day of Epiphany on January 6, children in most countries receive their gifts from Santa Claus or any local variant on Christmas Eve.
Children in the US, UK, Italy, Canada and Australia receive gifts on the Christmas day itself. In Argentina and Uruguay, gifts are exchanged both on Christmas and the Day of Epiphany. In Austria, good children receive sweets, nuts and fruits from St Nicholas on December 6. The Christ Child brings gifts for children of Austria on December 24 after the unveiling of Christmas tree. In South America, families stay awake till midnight after which they open their gifts.
In Norway and Iceland, people have their dinner when the church bells ring at 1700 hrs and 1800 hrs. After the dinner is over, they exchange gifts and spend the evening together with their family and friends.
In the Philippines, mass is held hours before the midnight. After participating in the Mass, the whole family celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ by indulging themselves with a feast named Noche Buena. Some of the foods that are common in Filipino homes are Jamon, Roast Chicken, Barbecued meats etc.
Finland has been following the tradition of Declaration of Christmas Peace from the Middle Ages every year on Christmas Eve. The only exception was in 1939 when the country was in the midst of the Winter War. The declaration, which takes place in Turky, Finland's official Christmas City and former capital, is broadcast in Finnish radio and television. The ceremony begins with the recital of Martin Luther's hymn 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God' followed by the Declaration of Christmas Peace which is read from a parchment roll.
Another interesting Christmas Eve tradition followed in Finland is that people generally go for sauna bath on this day as it is considered auspicious.
In France, children keep their shoes instead of stockings by the fireplace or outside the window of their room for gifts from Santa Claus. The whole family goes to church for Midnight Mass and then have a late supper after returning from the church. In Mexico and Italy too, children leave their shoes for the gifts.
In Italy, artisans create scenes of Nativity, manger scenes in clay or plaster and depict baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the backdrop of lakes, rivers and trees. Burning of Yule log is another tradition which is followed on Christmas Eve and special care is taken to ensure that it remains alight until New Year's Day.
In most parts of Italy, around 10 to 20 fish dishes could be prepared for Christmas Eve dinners. Sweets like panettone, panforte and torrone are common throughout the country.
There may be different ways of celebrating Christmas Eve in different countries, but the common thread that binds them together is Jesus Christ and his message of love, peace and togetherness.