Christmas Eve is the evening or entire day before Christmas Day , the festival commemorating the birth of Jesus . Christmas Day is observed around the world , and Christmas Eve is widely observed as a full or partial holiday in anticipation of Christmas Day . Together, both days are considered one of the most culturally significant celebrations in Christendom and Western society .
Christmas celebrations in the denominations of Western Christianity have long begun on the night of the 24th, due in part to the Christian liturgical day starting at sunset , a practice inherited from Jewish tradition and based on the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis: "And there was evening , and there was morning – the first day ." Many churches still ring their church bells and hold prayers in the evening ; for example, the Nordic Lutheran churches. Since tradition holds that Jesus was born at night (based in Luke 2:6-8), Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve , traditionally at midnight , in commemoration of his birth . The idea of Jesus being born at night is reflected in the fact that Christmas Eve is referred to as Heilige Nacht (Holy Night ) in German, Nochebuena (the Good Night ) in Spanish and similarly in other expressions of Christmas spirituality , such as the song "Silent Night , Holy Night ".
Many other varying cultural traditions and experiences are also associated with Christmas Eve around the world , including the gathering of family and friends , the singing of Christmas carols, the illumination and enjoyment of Christmas lights , trees , and other decorations, the wrapping, exchange and opening of gifts , and general preparation for Christmas Day . Legendary Christmas gift -bearing figures including Santa Claus , Father Christmas , Christkind, and Saint Nicholas are also often said to depart for their annual journey to deliver presents to children around the world on Christmas Eve , although until the Protestant introduction of Christkind in 16th-century Europe , such figures were said to instead deliver presents on the eve of Saint Nicholas' feast day (6 December ).