For many this is the most important day of preparation before Christmas.
Prior to the mid-20th century, Christians were accustomed to solemnly observing the Advent season. Christmas decorations were not put up in November, but saved until the beginning of the liturgical Christmas season (which begins on Christmas Eve).
While most of December was spent in prayerful expectation and cleaning the house for the upcoming festivities, the final days of Advent ushered in a flurry of activity.
This is one of the reasons why December 23 became known as “Little Christmas Eve,” primarily in Nordic countries. It was the final day before Christmas Eve when all the decorations could finally be put up.
According to Astrid Karlsen Scott in News of Norway, her family would look forward to what happened on December 23.
Little Christmas Eve, was the night NISSEFAR, the Christmas elf, came to decorate our home and tree, while we children slept. We never succeeded in staying awake to watch him and his helpers transform our home into a Christmas kingdom.
Each Christmas Eve morning the sights, feelings, and joy repeated itself. We stood in breathless awe watching what NISSEFAR had accomplished during the night. We knew he had many helpers. The silver star in the tree top nearly touched the ceiling. Our parents always pointed out how beautiful the star was, because it was the symbol of the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
In a similar way, those in Iceland would celebrate the primary patron saint of their country, St. Thorlak, as his feast day is on December 23. The Christmas tree would be placed in the home and a simple meal held in honor of the saint.
Liturgically, December 23 is the final day of the “O Antiphons” that are sung at Vespers, as well as during daily Mass. The antiphon signals the coming of Jesus Christ by recalling the most explicit prophecy in the Old Testament, taken from the book of Isaiah.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
It is from this verse that the popular Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” receives its title.
December 23 remains one of the most important days of Advent, as both the liturgy and local customs unite in their joyful expectation of Jesus Christ. All the preparations are at its height on this day, as Christmas Eve follows and the celebration of the coming of the Lord finally arrives.
It is a beautifully busy day, one that can help us enter into the joyful season of Christmas and provide a rich set of memories that will endure the rest of our lives.