Christmas Eve is always the most magical, mystical part of Christmas time. Popular depictions of Jesus’ Birth take place, presumably, on Christmas Eve—the angels bursting into the black, silent night above Bethlehem. The whole event is supernatural—the Virgin Birth, the Star guiding the way to the manger, the angels appearing to the shepherds and singing. Tradition has it that even the animals in the manger talked at the moment of Christ’s birth (at exactly midnight, of course). If the rocks can cry out, singing praises to Him, why not some donkeys?
It’s little wonder, then, that the whole evening has a sense of mystery and magic about it. As I wrote in October, the Victorians loved to read ghost stories around Christmas. There is a deep nostalgia—a rich sense of tradition, of reliving the ways and customs of one’s ancestors—on Christmas Eve. The ghosts of those who came before us haunt our Christmas celebrations. They are remembered and honored in our continuance of their traditions. We will be so lucky to enjoy similar remembrance.
Our family’s tradition is to pile over to my parents’ church for the Christmas Eve candlelight service. The last couple of years they have, thankfully, played it straight—no weird mash-ups of classic Christmas carols (which were good enough already) with some hip Christian songwriter’s lame chorus (stop trying to improve classics!), just the hits.
The last two songs will, invariably, be the best: “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night.” On the epic “Christ is the Lord” part of the latter, everyone will raise their candles aloft. It is powerful. It even stirs my fat-swollen tear ducts to produce some Christmas Eve dew.
We usually open a gift on Christmas Eve, too. I’d like to say there’s some deep, symbolic reason for this custom—that we’re emulating the Magi bringing their gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ Child—but I think it’s because my mother’s family did it when she was a child. Maybe they had some deeper reason, but it’s probably because it throws the kids a bone, like a teaser trailer for a much-anticipated movie. The adults like it, too.
In a newer tradition, we usually order some Chinese food. The only ghost we’re remembering with this practice is my older brother’s past carnivorous eating habits (he’s some kind of quasi-vegan now… sigh). I’m sure his past self wants to eat the chicken, too.
Here’s wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas Eve, and a Merry Christmas.