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Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve, which is the day before Christmas Day, is celebrated in many countries worldwide. It is a Christian observance that falls on December 24 in the Gregorian calendar.

What do people do?
Many people around the world celebrate Christmas Eve in different ways. It is observed in many countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Workers in some countries get a day off or half-day off to prepare for Christmas Day, including last-minute shopping for presents, decorations or food. In some countries Christmas Eve is celebrated with large family meals featuring traditional Christmas dishes. In some cultures, presents are exchanged and opened on the night of Christmas Eve. Many homes have their Christmas trees lit up, mistletoes hung, and other Christmas decorations, such as holly and ivy, at this time of the year.

Some people organize groups of singers who go Christmas caroling from door to door, or sing Christmas carols in public venues. It is also a time for children in many countries around the world to hang their Christmas stockings (or pillow cases), hoping for a present to arrive from Santa Claus on Christmas Day, which is December 25 in the Gregorian calendar. Children in France set out their shoes near a fireplace on Christmas Eve because they believe that Father Christmas (Santa Claus), also known as le Père Noël (in French), will arrive before dawn and fill them with toys, nuts and sweets.

Many churches hold special services during Christmas Eve, including midnight services. These services include special choirs and sermons to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Many churches also display a crèche or miniature Nativity scene. Christmas celebrations in different countries combine the country’s cultural traditions, beliefs and superstitions with more contemporary customs, such as Santa Claus and Christmas trees.

Public life
Christmas Eve is a public holiday in countries such as the Czech Republic and Estonia. Some banks and businesses are closed in some countries, including Austria and Germany, on Christmas Eve. Many people in countries such as Brazil have the afternoon off work on Christmas Eve.

Some stores are often open late to accommodate for last-minute Christmas shopping in some cities around the world. Schools and educational institutions are usually closed on Christmas Eve as it falls as part of either the winter (northern hemisphere) or summer (southern hemisphere) vacation period. Airports, bus stations and train stations may be busy as many people travel to visit their families around this time of the year.

Background
Christmas Eve, also known as the Vigil of Christmas, is perceived as the culmination of the Advent season. Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas Day and is associated with celebrating Jesus Christ’s birth, although his actual birth date has been disputed among many scholars. However, many Christmas traditions that are around today have their roots in pre-Christian winter festivals. These include the importance of candles and decorations made from evergreen bushes and trees, symbolizing everlasting light and life.

In Roman times, a mid-winter festival was held. This was a relaxing time with a lot of parties and merry making. It was also common to give other people small gifts, such as dolls for children and candles for adults. This festival culminated with the celebration of the winter solstice, which fell on December 25 in the Roman calendar.

Symbols
Since Pagan times, it was customary to decorate with greenery on festivals, especially with holly, ivy, and mistletoe. After some debate, the church authorities permitted it to be done on Christian festivals, at least from the early seventh century in England. Holly and ivy were associated with good and evil, or male and female, and so were often combined. Mistletoe has pagan associations. For example, the druids of Gaul regarded mistletoe growing on oak trees as sent from heaven.

Images of Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, snowmen, reindeer, and candy canes are seen in cards, posters, signs and other printed or marketing material associated with the Christmas celebrations. Images of baby Jesus, the Christmas star, and other symbols associated with the religious meaning of Christmas are also seen during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

December 24

1638 The Ottomans under Murad IV recapture Baghdad from Safavid Persia.
1812 Joel Barlow, aged 58, American poet and lawyer, dies from exposure near Vilna, Poland, during Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Barlow was on a diplomatic mission to the emperor for President Madison.
1814 A treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain, ending the War of 1812, is signed at Ghent, Belgium. The news does not reach the United States until two weeks later (after the decisive American victory at New Orleans).
1861 The USS Gem of the Sea destroys the British blockade runner Prince of Wales off the coast at Georgetown, S.C.
1862 A Christmas present arrives a day early for the Federal troops at Columbus, Kentucky, in the way of artillery on board the USS New Era.
1914 Over 577,000 Allied soldiers are to spend Christmas as prisoners in Germany.
1917 The Kaiser warns Russia that he will use “iron fist” and “shining sword” if peace is spurned.
1943 General Dwight D. Eisenhower is appointed the Allied Supreme Commander, even though almost everyone believed the position would go to American Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.
1947 An estimated 20,000 communists, led by guerrilla General Markos Vafthiades proclaim the Free Greek Government in northern Greece. They issue a call to arms to establish the regime throughout the nation.
1956 African Americans defy a city law in Tallahassee, Florida, and occupy front bus seats.
1963 New York’s Idlewild Airport is renamed JFK Airport in honor of the murdered President Kennedy.
1964 The U.S. headquarters in Saigon is hit by a bomb killing two officers.
1966 A Soviet research vehicle soft-lands on the moon.
1967 The Greek Junta frees ex-Premier Papandreou.
1968 The first pictures of an Earth-rise over the moon are seen as the crew of Apollo 8 orbits the moon.
1970 Nine GIs are killed and nine are wounded by friendly fire in Vietnam.
1972 Hanoi bars all peace talks with the United States until U.S. air raids over North Vietnam stop.
1974 An oil tanker’s spill pollutes 1,600 square miles of Japan’s Inland Sea.
1974 Cyclone Tracy devastates Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, destroying more than 70 percent of the city’s buildings, including 80 percent of its houses.
2005 Chad declares a state of war against Sudan in the wake of the Dec. 18 attack on the town of Adre, in which approximately 100 people were killed.
Born on December 24
1166 King John of England.
1745 Benjamin Rush, American medical pioneer and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
1809 Christopher Kit Carson, one of the most famous mountain men and scouts in the West.
1905 Howard Hughes, American industrialist, aviator, film producer, and director.
1922 Ava Gardner, film actress (The Barefoot Contessa, The Sun Also Rises).
1923 US Army Major General George S. Patton IV, son of Gen. George Patton of World War II fame.
1929 Mary Higgins Clark, author of suspense novels (Where are the Children, Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting).
1955 Scott Fischer, mountain climber and guide; first American to reach the summit of Lhotse, the world’s fourth-highest mountain.
1971 Ricky Martin, Puerto Rican pop musician, actor, author; was a member of the boy group Menudo before launching a successful solo career (“Livin’ la Vida Loca”).
1973 Stephanie Meyer, author best known for her young-adult, vampire romance series Twilight.
1974 Ryan Seacrest, radio personality, TV host; host of American Idol TV talent competition.