A joyous Christmas Eve to all my readers. I am sorry I have been absent this past week – I have a hectic travel schedule in Vietnam and Laos (currently in Hanoi). I notice, though, that I have never posted about Christmas Eve, so time to make up the deficiency — briefly. I will be absent again for a few days. Sorry.
As I am wont to say, with a slight scowl, “eve” does not mean “evening” – it means “the day before.” The eve of holidays is usually more fun for me than the day itself. Christmas Eve was always special for me when I was pastor of a church because we had a candlelit service, which was always moving. In Argentina, Christmas Eve is the BIG day – not Christmas Day. We meet with family and friends that day (or the day before) and start cooking in the morning. Get the asado going, start on salad and fruit salad, etc. We sit down to eat between 10 and 11, and at midnight drink a champagne toast and let off a barrage of fireworks that lasts easily 2 hours. Then more eating and drinking until 4 or 5 am, then sleep all morning Christmas Day.
Here in Asia, different countries make modest efforts to celebrate Christmas. It’s all for show and commercialism. In China it’s quite laughable. One year I saw a young woman of about 20, weighing maybe 50 kilos, wearing a white beard and dressed as Santa. Very seasonal.
On Christmas Eve, Roman Catholics and high church Anglicans traditionally celebrate Midnight Mass, which begins either at or sometime before midnight on Christmas Eve. In recent years some churches have scheduled their “Midnight” Mass as early as 7 pm. In Spanish-speaking areas, the Midnight Mass is sometimes referred to as Misa de Gallo, or Missa do Galo in Portuguese (“Rooster’s Mass”). In the Philippines, the custom has expanded into the nine-day Simbang Gabi, when Filipinos attend dawn Masses (traditionally beginning around 04:00 to 05:00 PST) from 16 December, continuing daily until Christmas Eve. In 2009 Vatican officials scheduled the Midnight Mass to start at 10 pm so that the 82-year-old Pope Benedict XVI would not have too late a night.
The Church of Scotland has a service beginning just before midnight, in which carols are sung. The Church of Scotland no longer holds Hogmanay services on New Year’s Eve, however. The Christmas Eve Services are still very popular. On Christmas Eve, the Christ Candle in the center of the Advent wreath is traditionally lit in many church services. In candlelight services, while singing Silent Night, each member of the congregation receives a candle and passes along their flame which is first received from the Christ Candle.
Lutherans traditionally practice Christmas Eve Eucharistic traditions typical of Germany and Scandinavia. “Krippenspiele” (Nativity plays), special festive music for organ, vocal and brass choirs and candlelight services make Christmas Eve one of the highlights in the Lutheran Church calendar. A nativity scene may be erected indoors or outdoors, and is composed of figurines depicting the infant Jesus resting in a manger, Mary, and Joseph. Other figures in the scene may include angels, shepherds, and various animals. The figures may be made of any material, and arranged in a stable or grotto. The Magi may also appear, and are sometimes not placed in the scene until the week following Christmas to account for their travel time to Bethlehem.
Christmas Vespers are popular in the early evening, and midnight services are also widespread in regions which are predominantly Lutheran. The old Lutheran tradition of a Christmas Vigil in the early morning hours of Christmas Day (Christmette) can still be found in some regions. In eastern and middle Germany, congregations still continue the tradition of “Quempas singing”: separate groups dispersed in various parts of the church sing verses of the song “He whom shepherds once came Praising” (Quem pastores laudavere) responsively.
Methodists celebrate the evening in different ways. Some, in the early evening, come to their church to celebrate Holy Communion with their families. The mood is very solemn, and the only visible light is the Advent Wreath, and the candles upon the Lord’s Table. Others celebrate the evening with services of light, which include singing the song Silent Night as a variety of candles (including personal candles) are lit. Other churches have late evening services perhaps at 11 pm, so that the church can celebrate Christmas Day together with the ringing of bells at midnight. Others offer Christmas Day services as well.
The annual “Nine Lessons and Carols”, broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge on Christmas Eve, has established itself a Christmas custom in the United Kingdom. It is broadcast outside the UK via the BBC World Service, and is also bought by broadcasters around the world.
I always make fish dishes for Christmas Eve (many throughout the day). This was last year – salmon and John Dory on buttered leeks with a cream sauce.