Christmas Eve, celebrated on the December 24th, is a vigil for the Christmas Day celebration in the Church. Marking the end of the season of Advent, Christmas Eve for many people is a time for setting up the Christmas decorations. In several countries throughout Europe, families get together to set up the Christmas tree. Wreaths and garlands of evergreen boughs are hung on doors or over windows. Mistletoe is often hung in the entryways of houses.
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Protestant churches traditionally hold candlelight services, which frequently feature children's choirs and nativity plays. Many churches in the United States showcase a production of Handel's Messiah on Christmas Eve. Catholics around the world customarily attend Midnight Mass to usher in Christmas Day. In traditional Catholic households, the Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve to replace the Advent Wreath. The candle is re-lit each night for the next twelve days. Christmas Eve dinners are often meatless, consisting of seafood or pasta. The meal usually begins when a child in the family sees glomuster, the appearance of the evening's first star.
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Christmas Eve Traditions
Christmas Eve is also of traditional time of feasting and rejoicing. Lavish dinners and parties are frequently held with family and friends. The night is marked with games, songs, toasting and renewing of old friendships. In some small towns in the American mid-west, town residents will gather at the town hall for a time of fellowship and celebration.
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. Caroling (the custom of singing from door to door throughout neighborhoods and villages) is still commonly practiced in Europe and North America. The carolers entertain residents with hymns and songs, often receiving hot cocoa, tea, and other treats for their performance. In England, where the custom is known as "wassailing," residents fill bowls with mulled, spiced wine, and offer mugs of the warm drink to the singers who entertained them. In northern climates that have significant snowfall, sleigh rides are a popular Christmas Eve pastime.
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Christmas Eve is an exciting time for children, who look for the arrival of Santa Claus or Father Christmas to bring them gifts. Many children will leave cookies and milk out for Santa Claus, as well as carrots for his reindeer. In some farming communities, children will gather in barns in hopes of hearing the animals praise God for the birth of Jesus. Many communities throughout the United States have public readings for children of "The Night Before Christmas," a poem by Clement Clarke Moore. Depending on family traditions, presents may be opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
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In parts of Canada, a tradition of fishing for the church during the week leading up to Christmas is practiced. Local fisherman will sell their catches and donate the proceeds to the church on Christmas Eve. In Lithuania, people will clean their houses inside and out to ensure a prosperous new year. Houses are adorned with hay, sometimes mixed with mint in the belief that it will bring good luck. Small baskets of hay are placed under tables in honor of the Christ child.
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Polish traditions include a twelve-course dinner in which each dish has to be sampled. Those who eat the most are believed to have a prosperous future awaiting them. After the last dish is served, the candles are extinguished. The participants observe the direction the smoke traveled as a way of predicting events for the coming year.
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While many of the celebrations for Christmas Eve are secular in nature, Christians around the world revere the night as a time of expressing love and hope to family and friends in the spirit of the birth of Jesus Christ.
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