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.
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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
the 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 behaved.
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.