The Yule Log is also brought in this night, and lit with a piece saved from last year's log. Traditionally, servants were allowed to have ale with their meals as long as the Yule Log lasted, so you know they found and brought in the LARGEST log possible!
The animals are given the power of speech at midnight, but do not stay around to listen to them! To do so is to invite disaster.
Also, if you have a barn, and are of Scandinavian descent, don't forget to leave a nice helping of the rice-pudding from tonight's supper for the Jultomten or Jule-nisse, the red-capped gnome who lives in the hayloft, and looks after the welfare of the farm and household.
Here is a charming custom found in "Sharpe's London Magazine of December 19, 1846":
"Our space will not allow of our descanting upon such Continental customs as appertain to the vigil of the Nativity: one, however, peculiar to Germany, is of too interesting a nature to be passed over without mention. The children make little presents to their parents, and to each other, and the parents to their children. For three or four months before Christmas the girls are all busy; and the boys save their pocket-money to make or purchase these presents.
Then, on the evening before Christmas-Day, one of the parlours, into which the parents must not go, is lighted up by the children. A great bough of yew or birch is fastened on the table, at a little distance from the wall; a multitude of little tapers are fixed on the bough, but not so as to burn it till they are nearly consumed; and coloured paper, &e. hangs and flutters from the twigs. Under this bough the children lay out, in great order, the presents they mean for their parents, still concealing in their pockets what they intend for each other. Then the parents are introduced, and each presents his little gift; they then bring out the remainder, one by one, from their pockets, and present them, with kisses and embraces.
On the next day, in the great parlour, the parents lay on the table the gifts for the children. A scene of sober joy succeeds; as, on this day, after an old custom, the mother tells privately to each of her daughters, and the father to his sons, that which he has observed most praiseworthy, and that which was most faulty, in their conduct."
In many countries, this is the night of celebration, rather than tomorrow. Church services are early in the evening, followed by a sumptuous supper of traditional dishes. Then the presents are handed out and opened, and after games and music, the coffee tray appears with cakes and sandwiches. Christmas Day will be spent quietly with friends and family, wishing all the joy of the season.
For others, this is a fast day until sundown; the festival dinner and family parties may be held before Midnight Mass, or after, and the parties may go on until dawn.
Whether you celebrate tonight, or wait until tomorrow, I wish you all a Merry Christmas.
And to all, a Good Night...