annually on December 24th
Christmas Eve is celebrated in anticipation of Christmas Day, and takes place the entire day, or evening prior to it. It is a Christian holiday that also is celebrated secularly by many who are not Christians. It is not an official federal holiday, so many businesses are open and many people have to work, but in many states people get a partial or full day off, as most places close early. Most schools are also closed on the day.
Within various denominations of Christianity, there are many different traditions that are followed. It is traditionally believed that Jesus was born on Christmas Eve night, and many churches hold services to commemorate his birth. Midnight Mass is common, but many times mass is held earlier in the evening than midnight. In some churches the Christ Candle at the center of the Advent wreath is lit, and candlelight services are held. Often, while singing "Silent Night," a candle is lit from the Christ Candle, and the flame is passed along to other candles. Some church services include nativity plays, and music for brass, organ, and vocal choirs. In some Eastern churches, the day marks the end of the Nativity Fast.
Non religious traditions include gathering with family and friends, Christmas caroling, the putting up of lights and decorations, and the wrapping and exchanging of gifts. Santa Claus—and other gift givers such as Father Christmas, Christkind, and Saint Nicholas—are said to begin their journeys around the world at night. Christmas stockings are often hung on fireplace mantelpieces and on the ends of beds, and are often filled with "stocking stuffers" such as small gifts and candy. Children often put out milk and cookies for Santa. Although many presents are commonly opened on Christmas Day, some families open all or some of their presents on Christmas Eve. Sometimes family presents are opened on Christmas Eve, and those from Santa are opened on Christmas Day. It depends on the traditions of each family.
How to Observe
You could celebrate the day by attending an evening church service or Midnight Mass. The day can be celebrated by gathering with family and friends, exchanging gifts, and hanging stockings. You could get a group of friends together to go caroling, put up decorations, or look at decorations others are displaying in your neighborhood.