Christmas eve is a winter holiday. They are held during Yuletide. Until the fifth century, Christmas and the Epiphany of Christ were celebrated on the same day – January 6. This day was called Epiphany, because it expressed the appearance of God in human form (his birth) and the appearance of the Holy Trinity at the Jordan river, when John baptized Jesus. In the 5th century, the celebrations were divided. The Church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 according to the old calendar. But the evening service in the Church and some traditions of celebration were preserved in both holidays. So there were two Christmas eve celebrations: Christmas and Epiphany. Both holidays have constant dates.
In 2021, Christmas eve will be celebrated on January 6, and Epiphany-on January 18.
The word Christmas eve comes from the word “sochivo” – a festive, but lean dish of boiled wheat grains with honey and dried fruits. Christmas eve is the evening before the holiday. Christian traditions and Slavic pagan rituals are beautifully intertwined in each pre-holiday evening.
Christmas eve – the evening before the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. This is the evening of December 24, old style, or January 6 in a new way. It is no coincidence that it is described in Gogol, mentioned in Alexey Tolstoy. At Pushkin’s, Tatiana Larina is guessing on the eve of Christmas and has a prophetic dream. In the Church calendar, Christmas eve is listed as ” the pre-feast of the Nativity of Christ.”
Requirements of the Church
The monastery Charter requires observance of a light fast on this day, which prohibits the preparation of meat dishes, but allows the preparation of fish.
Religious preparation for the holiday obliges believers to go to Church before Christmas eve to confess and take communion. The Christmas fast ends in the evening, when the sun sets and the first star appears in the sky. This tradition was born in memory of the star of Bethlehem, which announced the birth of the Savior to the Magi. In Church, during the pre-Christmas evening service, a candle is lit and carried out on a candlestick to the street. Before taking out the candle, the Christmas troparion and kontakion are sung. On the night of January 6-7, festive all-night services are held in all churches.
They prepare for Christmas eve in advance. Housewives restore order and cleanliness, houses are decorated with coniferous branches, or elegant Christmas trees are placed in the corners. Adults prepare gifts for children.
On the festive table there should be 12 dishes, according to the number of apostles, but dishes on Christmas eve are prepared Lenten. These are mandatory kutia, uzvar (stew), lean dumplings, vegetable cabbage rolls, cranberry or oatmeal jelly and much more, according to the hostess’s choice. The guests had to try at least a little, but every dish.
Christmas carols were an essential attribute of Christmas eve. Carolers glorified Christ, wished happiness to the owners, and they gave them gifts from their table.
Epiphany Christmas eve in 2021 will be celebrated on January 18, as it has been customary for the last 100 years. Epiphany eve is called the Eve of the Epiphany. The next day, January 19, the Orthodox Church celebrates the great feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. For several centuries of the holiday’s existence, it managed to acquire traditions and customs, some of which were taken from pagans.
Church regulations and traditions
On the eve of the feast of Epiphany, a strict fast must be observed. The fast lasts all day until the next morning, while the all-night service is held in churches. And only in the morning, when they come home from Church, do the faithful break their fast. According to tradition, before sitting down at the table, it is necessary to drink consecrated water. Christians believed that the Epiphany water brings to people’s physical health and strength of spirit.
Two days – on Christmas eve and directly on the day of Epiphany, the rite of water consecration is performed. Believers are convinced that the water on this day is filled with special power, because the Lord himself plunged into it.
Folk customs and superstitions
Christians have a tradition of sprinkling the house with water consecrated on these days. After sprinkling, in some regions, Windows and doors were baptized with a candle so that evil spirits could not enter the house.
Some believe that the water drawn from the tap on these days is also Holy. They argue that their point of view does not deteriorate. However, tap water is not Holy and does not spoil, most likely due to special cleaning and the presence of chlorine in it. Water must necessarily pass the rite of water consecration. And this rite is performed in the Church. It is better to collect water for consecration from open sources and go with it to the Church, where water consecration is performed during the festive service.
Christmas eve is a day of fasting, so the festive dish again becomes sochivo, or kutya-boiled wheat grains or rice with dried fruits and honey. Uzvar (dried fruit compote), pea or bean dishes, and lean pancakes are also served on the table.
It was also believed that on the eve of Epiphany, on Christmas eve, the sky opens. Believers go outside and look up and make a wish. Divination was an essential attribute of Epiphany eve. Zhukovsky’s ballad “Svetlana” describes divination on Epiphany eve. Farmers tried to guess what the year would be like in the sky:
- If the stars in the sky sparkle brightly, you can expect a good harvest.
- If the sky is clear, then a lot of peas will be born.
- A full moon on Christmas eve portends flooding rivers and good fishing.
For more information about the signs and features of celebrating Christmas eve, see the video: