No time in all the Twelve Nights and Days is so charged with the supernatural as Christmas Eve. Doubtless this is due to the fact that the Church has hallowed the night of December 24-5 above all others in the year. It was to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night that, according to the Third Evangelist, came the angelic message of the Birth, and in harmony with this is the unique Midnight Mass of the Roman Church, lending a peculiar sanctity to the hour of its celebration. And yet many of the beliefs associated with this night show a large admixture of paganism.
The above is a brief excerpt from the magnificent Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan, by Clement A. Miles, first published in 1913. There is much to savor in this book, but to me, my favorite passages deal with Christmas Eve. (You can find the entire book, for free, on the invaluable Manybooks.net.)
Christmas Eve has always been the cornerstone of my Christmas celebration. I was recently dining with a friend who observed that one of the chief joys of Christmas, as we grow older, is remembering Christmases past. When I do, I find my mind returns again and again to Christmas Eve much more so than the day itself.
In my household, the family exchanged gifts to one-another on Christmas Eve (while ‘the mother lode’ was delivered by Santa as we slept). This time always seemed more dear, more special to us than Christmas morning. Many souls now long gone spring to mind as I remember those nights, and the phantoms of Christmas appear particularly bright. And there are little tokens everywhere that litter my life from those Christmas Eves, even though the people are long gone. I still have a beautiful meerschaum pipe given to me by family members more than 30 years ago – the pipe remains, but they themselves are just memories. When I hold it on Christmas Eve, it is almost as if I can summon them back, for a brief time, and be content in the moment and in the day.
Earlier, when I was a very young boy, my maternal grandmother lived with us. On Christmas Eve, by older brother William and I would lie abed till all hours, wondering at what wonders were to come. We would sneak downstairs sometime around 2:00 a.m. or so, and find the gifts under the tree and the lights ablaze. My grandmother would always stir and sit upon the stair and watch us, then admonish us to come back to bed. These moments – fleeting, human, yet magical withal – are so much more important to me than the many happy memories of Christmas Day.
I think this particularly memory resonates with me because it illustrates the … complicity with which we greet Christmas. My brother and I were up all night in league to see Santa; my grandmother watched from the stairs with a benign twinkle, and Santa, well… Santa had been plotting all year long.
So, yes, there is something about Christmas Eve. Miles knew it 103 years ago, but any child could tell you the same thing today. It is almost as if a veil between ourselves and a more magical, invisible world momentarily lifts, and we catch a glimpse of some inner miracle. Christmas makes us more alive with the expectation of some transcendence, or, more rightly, makes us see and realize the miracle that has already taken place. The quiet, happy miracle of our own lives, this is the spirit of Christmas time, not just the mirth and cheer we all feel. It is deep and powerful magic that even the most dull and inattentive can tap into.
On Christmas Eve, be attentive and tap into this spirit. Many of us will be fortunate enough to be with beloved friends and family. But we all know someone less fortunate—who has just lost a loved one, or for some other reason is feeling alone. Reach out to those you love and cherish and let them know how you feel; make Christmas Eve a memorable night for them, and you make it one for yourself, as well.
On this Christmas Eve, we here at The Jade Sphinx wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a happy, prosperous and joyous New Year. If you have only one goal this year, make it this: have fun with those you love.