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Christmas Eve: Why do we celebrate it?

According to its original meaning, Christians gather on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Non-Christian people also celebrate this day as a family holiday with presents, a special meal and plenty of lights and decorations. Learn more about the history and meaning of the day as well as traditional Christmas Eve dishes in this article.

What is Christmas Eve?

Christmas Eve, also called Heiligabend or Holy Night, is the night before Christmas. In some places, the whole day before is called Christmas Eve. In the late afternoon or evening, in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, among other countries, traditional gift-giving takes place, during which family members give each other presents.

What is celebrated on Christmas Eve? Its history & significance

At Christmas, God brought his Son to earth in the form of Jesus. On Christmas Eve, Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, who came into the world as the Son of God and Saviour to redeem humanity from its sins. The exact date of Jesus' birth is not known and there is no reference to it in the Gospels.

Possible origin of Christmas Eve

Nevertheless, as early as around the year 300 in Rome, the date of Jesus' birth was set for 25 December. On the one hand, this date represents the winter solstice - the time when the days become longer again, which aligns with the idea of Jesus as a light-bringing figure of salvation. On the other hand, the Gospels date 25 March as the day of the announcement of Jesus' birth to Mary by the angel Gabriel - exactly nine months earlier. Another theory goes back to 25 December as the traditional holiday of the Roman sun god Sol, which was reinterpreted by the early Christians as the day of Christ's birth instead of a pagan holiday.

The biblical Christmas story

The biblical Christmas story begins with the Roman Emperor Augustus calling for a census. Joseph from Nazareth travels to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife Mary to be counted. When labour pains begin and the two find nowhere to stay, Mary gives birth to their son in a stable. According to tradition, an angel of the Lord then appears to the shepherds to inform them of the birth of the Saviour. They go to Bethlehem, where they indeed find Jesus in the manger. They then proclaim the message to the world.

Baby Jesus loosefrom 35 €
Baby Jesus in Manger (stained)from 68 €
Jesus child with cromefrom 60 €
Heart with Jesus childfrom 23 €

What food is typical on Christmas Eve?

Meals on Christmas Eve have a lot to do with tradition and time-honoured customs. In other words, many families serve the same dish every year on Christmas Eve. According to a survey, Germans most like to eat sausages with potato salad (34 per cent), roast duck (28 per cent), roast goose (23 per cent), raclette (23 per cent) and fondue (13 per cent) on Christmas Eve and the holidays.

Traditional Christmas Eve meal – sausages with potato saladA traditional dish on Christmas Eve: potato salad with sausages.

How is Christmas Eve celebrated?

Originally, Christmas Eve or Christmas had nothing to do with presents or trees, which today are a big part of classic Christmas traditions. The reformer Martin Luther played a part in changing this. In the 16th century, he advocated using the birth of Jesus as the occasion for a family celebration in which people gave each other presents. From then on, presents were placed under the Christmas tree by the Christ Child and no longer by Saint Nicholas, who was propagated by the Catholic Church. So gift-giving on Christmas Eve has a centuries-old tradition.

Catholics also celebrate Christmas Eve Mass. Mass comes from the Latin word "matutinus" (Latin for "morning") and originally referred to a prayer between midnight and early morning. That is why the service traditionally takes place at midnight. Protestant Christians celebrate Christvesper on Christmas Eve. The Latin word "vespers" also suggests when the service is celebrated - usually at 6 pm.

Tip: In the following article, we have collected tips on how to celebrate Christmas and Christmas Eve with children without stress: Celebrating Christmas with Children: Tips and Ideas.

Gift ideas for Christmas

Would you like to give something special for Christmas? Gifts from the heart instead of off the rack? Items that are lovingly made by hand, with the heart and soul of wood sculptors behind them? Not only will you be giving something that comes from the heart, but you will also be supporting a traditional South Tyrolean craft.

  • Wood carvings: how about a religious or secular figure that will enhance any home? Give the gift of the patron saint of the recipient, for example.
  • Nativity scenes & nativity figures: high-quality nativity scenes and nativity figures in different styles, hand-carved from different woods - we also offer this beautiful gift in our online shop.
Nativity set
Nativity figures set
Nativity stables
Holy family statue

More questions about Christmas Eve

There are many more questions about Christmas Eve that we can help answer. These are just a few:

What is the difference between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

Christmas is one of the most important church festivals after Easter. The two days of Christmas on 25 and 26 December are public holidays in Germany. The night from 24 to 25 December is known as Holy Night. Strictly speaking, it marks the end of the Advent season, which was formerly used by devout Christians as a period of fasting before Christmas began. In concrete terms, this means that 24 December is not yet Christmas, but rather Christmas Eve - nevertheless, most people hardly acknowledge this difference anymore.

Is Christmas Eve a public holiday?

Christmas Eve is not a public holiday in Germany, Austria and Switzerland like Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Rather, people go to work as normal on that day. If you want to spend Christmas Eve at home with your family to help with the final Christmas preparations such as putting up the Christmas tree, you have to take a day off - just like on any other ordinary working day. However, in many companies, there is an agreement that work is only to be done until noon. After all, the importance of Christmas Eve as the "quiet time" before Christmas has been well established. All shops close at 2 p.m. at the latest so that families can gather in their own house or flat to celebrate together, regardless of whether they believe in the Christmas story or not.

What is the significance of straw on Christmas Eve?

In some parts of Germany, Poland and northern and south-eastern Europe, the nativity scene or even the living room is lined with straw on Christmas Eve. This custom is meant to commemorate the birth of Jesus in a stable.

Credits: main image: © Jacob Lund/ stock.adobe.com; image 1: © Kzenon / stock.adobe.com; image 2: © Naeblys / stock.adobe.com, product images: © Lignoma.

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