Christmas Eve as a religious celebration
Christmas became official as early as 325 AD when the first Christian Roman Emperor introduced it into the calendar of holidays. Christmas Eve as a day of celebration was first mentioned some 600 years ago. Appropriately enough the man who did it was John Wycliffe, a philosopher, theologian and importantly translator of the New Testament into English. He writes simply that the gospel is read on Christmas Eve. The visit to the Midnight Mass is simply a continuation of this. But it was serious religious business. Cromwell even banned celebrations because he believed religion to be a serious matter.
Christmas Eve becomes fun
In many countries of Europe, including Germany and Austria, this is also the day for opening presents. This idea of Christmas and fun goes back only to the beginning of the 1800s. Curiously enough it was propularlised by the British Royal Family. Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria, introduced this to the British court. Even today, the British royal family still gives and receives gifts on Christmas Eve.
Probably the most famous religious reading on Christmas Eve was that of the crew of Apollo 8 as they circled the moon, reading from Genesis “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”.