Christmas Eve is the night before Christmas.
Christmas Eve Traditions
Christmas has become a secular (non-religious) holiday, but it retains both religious and popular traditions.
The Christian Tradition
In Christianity, Christmas Eve is a vigil leading to the Christmas Mass at midnight celebrating the traditional birth of Jesus which in English we call “Christ-mas.”
In popular tradition, some families open presents. Others open presents on Christmas morning. Children in families who open presents on Christmas morning often leave out a plate of milk and cookies for Santa Claus and some carrots for the reindeer. Many Latins do their gift-giving later on Three Kings Day.
The evening brings to mind the “Twas the Night Before Christmas” poem and “The Nutcracker” ballet.
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” starts with “Twas the Night Before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” It was written by Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) who was an original developer of Chelsea, Manhattan.
“The Nutcracker” ballet is a Christmas Eve fantasy. It was popularized by New York City Ballet founding choreographer George Balanchine and America’s first major prima ballerina, Native American Maria Tallchief. She played the Sugar Plum Fairy. Together they made this once obscure ballet, the most popular ballet ever.
Christmas Eve in New York City
Just about every church holds a Christmas Mass. It’s a really nice time to go to church in New York City. Both St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown and the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Nolita have lovely Christmas Eve Masses. The one in St. Patrick’s Cathedral is usually ticketed. Ticketing usually opens September 1st.
Christmas Eve and Christmas morning are one of the quietest times in New York City. One business that is usually open is the Winter Village Holiday Market at Bryant Park in Midtown.