Christmas Eve is a unique, almost magical night for those who celebrate this holiday. There are a multitude of different family traditions for December 24th, in anticipation of Christmas Day on the 25th. While the "broad strokes" traditions often have common themes, the individual family traditions can be quite fascinating.
Having a big Christmas dinner is an almost universal tradition amongst those of us that celebrate Christmas, but many families vary on which day they hold their feast. My family used to have our Christmas dinner on Christmas Day, but this changed as I was growing up. The grown-ups found that trying to put on a big dinner at the same time that all of the other Christmas Day festivities were going on was just too much. So we moved our feast to Christmas Eve, which gave us plenty of leftovers to carry us through the next day. Many families also have varying traditions for the type of food that they eat for their Christmas dinner. Turkey or ham is very common, but some people do not eat meat on Christmas Eve. Some traditions call for seafood for their Christmas feast.
Although this year will be different due to the current ban on social gatherings in Alberta, in most years Christmas Eve is also a time of year when family and friends come together to enjoy each other's company during the Holidays. Many families will play games together, sing some Christmas carols, and take some time just to laugh and visit together. One game that tends to be fairly popular (but has many variations and goes by different names) is the White Elephant gift exchange. The game's basic gist is that everybody brings a wrapped gift (usually within a set price range) and is then given a number. A corresponding set of numbers is put into a hat, and then a number is chosen at random. The person whose number was chosen then gets to choose a wrapped gift, which they have to unwrap before the next number is chosen. Once that person's turn has ended, another number is drawn at random. The person with this corresponding number gets to either choose a wrapped gift, or they can "steal" a gift from someone who already has an unwrapped gift. This continues until all of the gifts have been unwrapped, and everyone has a gift. Things can get pretty crazy with multiple people competing for the same gift. Some goups go through multiple rounds before they call it quits.
Christmas Eve Midnight Mass is an important observance for several Christian denominations. There are variances as to whether the service begins an hour before midnight, at midnight, or even after midnight.
There is a whole range of traditions to do with opening presents on Christmas Eve. While some families open all of their gifts on Christmas Eve, others save all of their gifts for Christmas Day. Some families will allow their children to pick one gift to open on Christmas Eve. One custom that seems tailor-made for a small, quiet Christmas Eve is to have one larger gift for the family to open that night as a group. Inside, the family will find cozy pyjamas for everybody, hot chocolate, popcorn, and a Christmas movie.
As it gets closer to bedtime for the kids, the evening often wraps up with everyone hanging up their stockings for Santa to fill. In most of the families that I have known, the kids will also leave a small plate of cookies and a glass of milk out for Santa before heading to bed for the night. Sometimes they even leave a carrot for Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer.
One tradition that I have always found to be interesting is Animal's Christmas. My dad grew up with this tradition and passed it along to my sister and me. With Animal's Christmas, it is believed that animals are able to speak at or just after midnight on Christmas Eve. It was important to feed your pets and livestock really well on December 24th so that they would have nice things to say about you that night. Looking into this tradition further, it seems that it is popular in many different parts of Europe. So much so that it is just about impossible to find precisely where or how it originated.
Whichever way you may observe your festivities, The Grizzly Gazette would like to wish everyone who celebrates this joyous Holiday a Merry Christmas and to wish all of the best of the Holiday Season to everyone who does not.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette