Cultural events are listed here with basic background details. For specific events, dates, and times, please see the Featured Events on the Cultural Calendar main page.
Christmas Eve, sometimes known as the Vigil of Christmas, is the day before Christmas Day. It represents the end of the Advent season, the period of four weeks preceding Christmas Day.
Tradition holds that Jesus was born in the evening, as described in the Biblical Book of Luke. As such, the Roman Catholic church holds its first liturgy of Christmas in the form of the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and the Anglican church holds a Midnight Communion. Many other churches mark the occasion with bell ringing, the singing of Christmas Carols, and lighting candles.
The tradition of gift giving is intrinsic to Christmas time, which some believe commemorates the gifting of gold, myrrh, and frankincense by the three wise men to the baby Jesus. Prior to the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, the date of Christmas gift giving was the 6th of December, the feast day of St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus. Since then, the date for giving Christmas gifts has shifted to either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Whether you exchange your Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day changes from country to country, or even family to family.
There is a wide array of culinary traditions related to Christmas Eve from around the world, ranging from pre-Christmas Day fasting through to elaborate twelve-course meals symbolising the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. Some of these meals are free of meat or dairy, or feature unleavened bread, possibly echoing the rules of the Jewish Passover feast. It is traditional in some Slavic countries for families to leave an empty seat at the table for guests, alluding to the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem.
Aotearoa New Zealand has no such fixed Christmas Eve traditions, but it is nonetheless seen as a time for family gathering, singing, and eating together.
Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas Day and falls on the 24th of December each year.