Christmas Eve is observed in the evening of December 24, but officially it is the whole day before Christmas Day. In some states, it is a public holiday. Schools are normally closed. However, for the majority it is not a holiday, so most people have to work.
As it is the day before the holidays, many workplaces hold Christmas parties or allow their employees to leave work early. Stores are usually open, however, opening times may be affected. Grocery stores, in particular, may close early. Some people use Christmas Eve for last-minute Christmas shopping.
What day is Christmas Eve?
Christmas Eve is always the day before Christmas Day, however, what day of the week Christmas Eve falls on changes depending on the year. For example, the last time Christmas Eve was on a Sunday was in 2017 and the next time will be in 2023. You can see past, present, and upcoming dates below:
Christmas Eve 2020 - Thursday, December 24th
Christmas Eve 2021 - Friday, December 24th
Christmas Eve 2022 - Saturday, December 24th
Christmas Eve 2023 - Sunday, December 24th
If at any time you want to find out exactly how many days there are until Christmas Day, why not use this handy Christmas Calculator.
Christmas Eve Traditions
The United States is a melting pot of cultures, therefore many traditions and customs originate from other countries. Christmas, however, is an especially important symbol for Christians as it commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Other religious celebrations that occur around Christmas include Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the Immaculate Conception.
Christmas Eve is often the last or second to last day on an Advent Calendar, a traditional calendar used in the countdown to Christmas. You can read more about the history of Advent here.
Families make final preparations for Christmas Day itself: preparing food, finishing off gift-wrapping, travelling, or finishing off decorating their homes with lights, trees, etc.
It is common for children, in anticipation of Santa Claus’ visit down the chimney, to put out cookies and milk for him, and carrots or other treats for the reindeer. Some children also hang up stockings on the fireplace, or other suitable places, so that Santa can leave their gifts inside. Children on Santa's naughty list are thought to receive a lump of coal in their stocking rather than gifts, according to the tale.
Churches hold candlelight or midnight masses, where the Nativity is played out and carols are sung. This happens at midnight, as it is the time when Christmas Eve transitions to Christmas Day, and because traditionally, Jesus is thought to have been born at night.
Some people follow fasting or abstinence rites or customs leading up to Christmas Day. E.g., Italian-Americans celebrate The Feast of the Seven Fishes, a grand meal of seafood, as meat is abstained from until Christmas Day.
Other cultures, especially of European origin, may have their main celebrations, including exchanging gifts and their main Christmas dinner, on Christmas Eve itself. People might eat their meal after they have come back from going to church at midnight. Some Scandinavian peoples eat their meal and then go to church.