Are you celebrating Christmas tomorrow? Or are you celebrating tonight? Around the world, Christmas is celebrated in many different ways and at different times. I live in London, UK, and here, Christmas celebration takes place at 25th December, Christmas Day. I guess we all know the story why we have celebrated Christmas the last 1700 years or so, in one form or another, but it takes place in very different forms on different dates around the world. And in fact, Christmas as we know it is an amalgamation of many different celebrations which people in Europe have celebrated for thousands of years, long before the Bible was written.
Since I come from Norway, our Christmas celebration takes place today, or this evening; Christmas starts at 5 pm to be precise. To give you some background information for this difference between British/American tradition and traditions in large parts of Europe, I turned to Wikipedia as usual: “Christmas Eve refers to the evening or entire day preceding Christmas Day, a widely celebrated festival commemorating the birth of Jesus that takes place on December 25. It is a culturally significant celebration for most of the Western world and is widely observed as a full or partial holiday in anticipation of Christmas Day. One reason celebrations occur on Christmas Eve is because the traditional Christian liturgical day starts at sunset, an inheritance from Jewish tradition, which in turn is based in the story of creation in Genesis: "And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day." This liturgical day is followed for all days in the Eastern rite and the custom of beginning Christmas celebration in the preceding evening is preserved in western churches that have altered the liturgical day to start at midnight, for example the Roman Catholic Church. Many churches still ring their church bells and hold prayers in the evening before holidays; for example the Nordic Lutheran churches.”
In Norwegian, Christmas Eve is called Julaften, which means directly translated Yule Evening, so nothing in the name referring to Jesus or Christ at all. Yule was originally an indigenous midwinter (winter solstice) festival celebrated by the pagan Scandinavian and other Germanic people until the Catholic Church decided to pick this time of year as a suitable time to celebrate the birth of Christ. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule. The fact that Yule is not etymologically tied to Christianity means Yule in the Nordic countries is also celebrated by many non-Christians and non-religious. The non-religious usually treat Yule as an entirely secular tradition.
To me, Christmas or Julaften is a day for the family to meet, as many family members as possible; to have a nice dinner in the evening and to exchange presents. We put our best clothes on and have a formal dinner, the best china comes out of the cupboards, the house is decorated and there are candles and lights everywhere. No silly hats and daft jokes around the table, and no-one get drunk. Julaften is a formal occasion, even if you are together just as a family – it is supposed to be formal, this one evening a year. Living here in London, with most of my family in other countries around Europe it is difficult to meet like we used to for Christmas, so it has become a rather low-key celebration for me. But my son is coming for dinner tonight, and my best china is once again washed and ready to be used; it hasn’t been out since last Christmas :-)
Whatever you are doing this Christmas, a religious celebration or a non-religious one, today, tomorrow, or maybe you are celebrating nonstop from 24th until the 6th January as they do in many European countries – whatever you do I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. My cat says Happy Christmas too!