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Italy[ edit ] While other Christian families throughout the world celebrate the Christmas Eve meal with various meats, Italians especially Sicilians celebrate the traditional Catholic " Feast of the Seven Fishes " which was historically served after a hour fasting period. Although Christmas fasting is no longer a popular custom, some Italian-Americans still enjoy a meatless Christmas Eve feast  and attend the Midnight Mass. In various cultures, a festive dinner is traditionally served for the family and close friends in attendance, when the first star usually Sirius arrives on the sky. The number of dishes used to be traditionally an odd number usually 5, 7, 9, or It is obligatory to try a portion of all of them. Some traditions specify that the number of guests cannot be odd. The table is spread with a white cloth symbolic of the swaddling clothes the Child Jesus was wrapped in, and a large white candle stands in the center of the table symbolizing Christ the Light of the World. Next to it is a round loaf of bread symbolizing Christ Bread of Life. Hay is often displayed either on the table or as a decoration in the room, reminiscent of the manger in Bethlehem. The twelve dishes which differ by nationality or region symbolize the Twelve Apostles. The Holy Meal was a common Eastern Orthodox tradition in the Russian Empire , but during the era of the Soviet Union it was greatly discouraged as a result of the official atheism of the former regime. It is coming back in Russia and continues to be popular in Ukraine. The main attributes of Holy Meal in Ukraine are kutia , a poppy seed, honey and wheat dish, and uzvar, a drink made from reconstituted dried fruits. Other typical dishes are borscht , Varenyky , and dishes made of fish , phaseolus and cabbage. Serbia[ edit ] Candles on Christmas Eve In accordance with the Christmas traditions of the Serbs , their festive meal has a copious and diverse selection of foods, although it is prepared according to the rules of fasting. As well as a round, unleavened loaf of bread and salt, which are necessary, this meal may comprise roast fish, cooked beans, sauerkraut , noodles with ground walnuts, honey, and wine. Families in some Slavic countries leave an empty place at the table for guests alluding to Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in Bethlehem. Gift giving[ edit ] Christmas presents under the Christmas tree During the Reformation in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl , and the date of giving gifts changed from 6 December to Christmas Eve. Many trace the custom of giving gifts to the Magi who brought gifts for the Christ child in the manger. Children are commonly told that presents were brought either by the Christkind German for Christ child ,  or by the Weihnachtsmann. Both leave the gifts, but are in most families not seen doing so. In Germany, the gifts are also brought on 6 December by "the Nikolaus " with his helper Knecht Ruprecht. In other Latin American countries, people stay awake until midnight , when they open the presents. In Belgium and the Netherlands Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas and his companion Zwarte Piet deliver presents to children and adults alike on the evening of 5 December, the eve of his nameday. Elements common to many areas of the world include the attendance of special religious observances such as a midnight Mass or Vespers, and the giving and receiving of presents. Along with Easter, Christmastime is one of the most important periods on the Christian calendar, and is often closely connected to other holidays at this time of year, such as Advent, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St. Celebrations[ edit ] Among Christians, as well as non-Christians who celebrate Christmas, the significant amount of vacation travel, and travel back to family homes, that takes place in the lead-up to Christmas means that Christmas Eve is also frequently a time of social events and parties, worldwide. In contemporary American-Jewish culture[ edit ] With Christmas Day a work holiday throughout the United States, there is a space of unfilled free time during which much of American commerce and society is not functioning, and which can give rise to a sense of loneliness or alienation for American Jews. A number of historical events have been influenced by the occurrence of Christmas Eve. Christmas truce During World War I in and there was an unofficial Christmas truce , particularly between British and German troops. The truce began on Christmas Eve, 24 December , when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres , Belgium, for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols , most notably Stille Nacht "Silent Night". The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols. The two sides shouted Christmas greetings to each other. Soon there were calls for visits across the " No man's land " when small gifts were exchanged. The truce also allowed a breathing space during which recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Funerals took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects. At one funeral in No Man's Land, soldiers from both sides gathered and read a passage from Psalm The truce occurred in spite of opposition at higher levels of the military command. Earlier in the autumn, a call by Pope Benedict XV for an official truce between the warring governments had been ignored. Earthrise , as seen from Apollo 8 , 24 December NASA Apollo 8 reading from Genesis[ edit ] On 24 December , in what was the most watched television broadcast to that date, the astronauts Bill Anders , Jim Lovell and Frank Borman of Apollo 8 surprised the world with a reading of the Creation from the Book of Genesis as they orbited the moon.
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