Christmas Eve is Christmas

In the ancient world, the end of the day was when the sun went down. The night time counted as the beginning of the next day. This is the Biblical reckoning: “The evening and the morning were the first day.” To this day, Jews begin celebrating the Sabbath as soon as the sun goes down on Friday night.

This means that Christmas begins with Christmas Eve. So if your custom is to open presents on Christmas Eve, as long as you do it after the sun goes down, IT’S ALL RIGHT!

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bob

    Counting the beginning of the day from sunset has other advantages as well. Sleep is no longer “reward” for what we have done but becomes preparation for our being about the vocation God has given us with the rising of the sun. Our focus is shifted from “my works” to an attitude of trust in God’s grace and provision.
    Second, in days previous, (prior to the electric light) while some activity was in the evening, the flow of activity was more governed by the light of day. Thus the flow was some evening activity, sleep and then the activity of the day. Thus the Biblical connection of death and sleep had much more meaning. The events of this life and the sleep of death are secondary to the glories of the dawn in the Lord’s presence. The concept of sleep changes from the finality of the end to awakening of hope and glory.
    While there may be advantages, getting to the presents, to having this mind set today there also are advantages to this mind set all year.

  • Bob

    Counting the beginning of the day from sunset has other advantages as well. Sleep is no longer “reward” for what we have done but becomes preparation for our being about the vocation God has given us with the rising of the sun. Our focus is shifted from “my works” to an attitude of trust in God’s grace and provision.
    Second, in days previous, (prior to the electric light) while some activity was in the evening, the flow of activity was more governed by the light of day. Thus the flow was some evening activity, sleep and then the activity of the day. Thus the Biblical connection of death and sleep had much more meaning. The events of this life and the sleep of death are secondary to the glories of the dawn in the Lord’s presence. The concept of sleep changes from the finality of the end to awakening of hope and glory.
    While there may be advantages, getting to the presents, to having this mind set today there also are advantages to this mind set all year.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Right you are, Bob. Excellent points. It also provides a greater harmony with the seasons. We still say “the days are longer” in the summer and shorter in the winter. You would really notice and feel that under the Biblical reckoning. You would also work longer or shorter, respectively. Now the day is always 24 hours, determined I suppose by the invention of clocks and the Enlightenment-era calculations of time into regular blocks. (If anyone knows when and why we changed to our present understanding of what a day is, please let us know.) Now our days begin and end, oddly, in the middle of the night–that is, midnight–and we no longer have much of a sense of the rhythms of day and night, the seasons, and, thus, the church year.

    Of course Christmas should be celebrated at the very time of the season when darkness reaches its longest duration and the light starts lasting longer and longer, a perfect symbol of the Light that has come into the world and that overcomes the darkness!

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Right you are, Bob. Excellent points. It also provides a greater harmony with the seasons. We still say “the days are longer” in the summer and shorter in the winter. You would really notice and feel that under the Biblical reckoning. You would also work longer or shorter, respectively. Now the day is always 24 hours, determined I suppose by the invention of clocks and the Enlightenment-era calculations of time into regular blocks. (If anyone knows when and why we changed to our present understanding of what a day is, please let us know.) Now our days begin and end, oddly, in the middle of the night–that is, midnight–and we no longer have much of a sense of the rhythms of day and night, the seasons, and, thus, the church year.

    Of course Christmas should be celebrated at the very time of the season when darkness reaches its longest duration and the light starts lasting longer and longer, a perfect symbol of the Light that has come into the world and that overcomes the darkness!

  • http://thekurths.com Derek Kurth

    A somewhat related question: When do you light the Christ candle on your Advent wreath? Christmas Eve after the sun goes down, or sometime Christmas Day?

  • http://thekurths.com Derek Kurth

    A somewhat related question: When do you light the Christ candle on your Advent wreath? Christmas Eve after the sun goes down, or sometime Christmas Day?

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    For the record, Norwegians traditionally open gifts on Christmas eve. But they go to church on Sunday.

    If, of course, they go at all.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    For the record, Norwegians traditionally open gifts on Christmas eve. But they go to church on Sunday.

    If, of course, they go at all.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Derek, I had to wait until we went to church to answer your question. We did light the Christ candle during the Christmas Eve service, showing that our congregation, at least, is Old School when it comes to when the day begins.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Derek, I had to wait until we went to church to answer your question. We did light the Christ candle during the Christmas Eve service, showing that our congregation, at least, is Old School when it comes to when the day begins.

  • Mary Jack

    But the candle was lit only after the reading of Christ’s birth and not before.

  • Mary Jack

    But the candle was lit only after the reading of Christ’s birth and not before.

  • http://thekurths.com Derek Kurth

    Good to know! At our church it was lit it on Christmas Eve as well, so I’ll call that a consensus :)

  • http://thekurths.com Derek Kurth

    Good to know! At our church it was lit it on Christmas Eve as well, so I’ll call that a consensus :)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X