14. Significance of Christmas Eve

The day before Christmas is one that is filled with a mixture of anxiety
and anticipation. There’s anxiety at putting all the final plans and finishing
decoration touches in place and getting all the necessary shopping done. There’s
also much anticipation about all the merriment and excitement of Christmas day.
Children are usually hardly able to control themselves as they think about the
Christmas gifts they hope to get the next day. They may try to stay up through
the night to catch Santa Claus, or they may just be too excited to sleep.
Christmas Eve is also important for the simple reason that in ancient
custom, and among some cultures today, a holiday or other celebrated day really
starts from sundown of the day before the actual day that is celebrated.
Therefore, festivities and observances for Christmas Day would really begin on
Christmas Eve.
One of the most significant aspects of Christmas Eve however, is related
to religion. Attending Midnight Mass or earlier church services is mandatory for
many people whose religion is Christianity. This is so even for people who
aren’t regular churchgoers during the year. Evidence of the importance of these
church services can be seen in the overflow of congregations at the churches.
Many churches will also have an added service earlier in the evening to
accommodate the above normal attendance, and also for individuals like the
elderly who would prefer a service that is earlier than Midnight Mass.
Another important aspect of Christmas Eve celebrations is related to
retail operations. On the day before Christmas, stores make a last ditch effort
to push sales of Christmas and other merchandise. There often are special
promotions last-minute advertised to capitalize on late, desperate Christmas
shoppers and other impulse buyers. This last effort is also aimed at increasing
sales for the Christmas period.
Some stores will remain open late, even up to midnight or just before
midnight. Macy’s department store in New York City, which bills that particular
store branch as the world’s largest, stayed open until midnight on Christmas Eve
of 1867 for the first time. Christmas Eve culminates the single biggest shopping
season, which started the day after Thanksgiving, for retailers.
Christmas Eve is also important for the traditions associated with it. It
is the night when parents have to play the role of Santa Claus and sneak toys
and other Christmas gifts under the Christmas tree to the absolute delight and
surprise of children who awake on Christmas morning to find the presents.
The idea of Santa Claus coming descending chimneys on Christmas Eve to leave
gifts for good boys and girls was made popular by a poem, attributed to Clement
Clarke Moore. In that poem titled ‘An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, ‘
which Moore wrote in 1822 and which is now popularly known as ‘Twas the Night
Before Christmas,’ Moore described Santa Claus as ‘a right jolly old elf’ who
went from house to house with his sleigh pulled by reindeers flying through the
air to deliver Christmas presents to all the girls and boys who had been well
Food plays a big role in making Christmas Day special and much of its
preparation often begins on Christmas Eve. Poultry and other meats are often
prepared by letting them stand in a mixture of various herbs and spices,
puddings and pies are baked on Christmas Eve, as well as a fresh batch of
gingerbread and other cookies and treats.
The scents and flurry of activity related to all these preparations also help to
make Christmas Eve a memorable day on its own.