On December 24, all Christians who celebrate Christmas on Gregorian calendar will mark the Christmas Eve. Catholics, Protestants and other Christians of Western rite will gather in a family circle to spend this day together.
On this day, people decorate the Christmas trees, set cribs with figures of baby Jesus and Blessed Mary and staw, which is also a symbol of Christmas. Crib is a name of feed bin for cattle. Blessed Mary put her newborn child in the cribs with straw.
People go to church open since early morning to confess. The festive table with fasting dishes is set. Ad Missam in Vigilia usually begins at midnight. According to tradition, during this mass the priest puts a figurine of the baby Christ in a Christmas nativity scene.
The festive dinner on Christmas Eve has to include blessed unleavened bread - Christmas wafer. The dish with wafers is placed in the middle of the table. Before dinner, the head of family reads the chapter of the Gospel about birth of Jesus Christ. After that, all present take wafers and share with each other, wishing peace and kindness.
It is a custom to leave one place available at the Christmas table. If somebody comes to the house on Christmas Eve, he or she will be welcomed. This custom is a sign of remembering close people who cannot celebrate the holiday with family. The free place also symbolizes a deceased family member or all family members who died. A special plate is set on the table in such case and a bit of every dish and a wafer is put in it.
On the first day of Christmas, the festive dishes are served – meat dishes from pork, turkey, goose or ham. The abundance at the table is to ensure prosperity in the New Year. As for the dishes, they differ depending on the country. In the United States it is turkey with cranberry sauce, in Lithuania – Kutia, fish dishes and other food without fat.
In Denmark, people fry goose with apples, cook rice pudding and sweet porridge with raisins and cinnamon. In Austria and Hungary, it is the opposite: people do not eat poultry on this day as it is believed that luck and happiness can fly away. Scandinavian countries have pork, smoked meat and prepare a malt beverage.
Santa Claus visits children on this day and brings them presents under the tree or in socks. It is common to leave a glass of milk and a plate with almond cookies in the living room. It is believed that this is favorite food of Santa.
Traditional Christmas decoration in Western countries is mistletoe. All who meet under the mistletoe must kiss. Even is pagan times, this plant was considered a heavenly sign. Other decorations - winterberry and ivy, are also connected to pagan holidays.
People sing Christmas carols at the table on the day of Christmas and the next day. The guisers among with children and adults visit the homes, singing songs and wishing happiness and love.