Depending on where you’re from as well as where you’re currently living, you might be wondering why some countries celebrate Christmas on 24 December while others wait for 25 December, and which one is the right way to do it.
Growing up in Paris, I remember celebrating Christmas on both the 24 and 25 December, but then again, that could have been because of my family’s tendency to do things extra, no matter what. After I moved to London and stayed there for my first British Christmas ever, I found out that in the UK, most people celebrate Christmas on the 25. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, until I stumbled upon the divisive question online.
Shortly after, while speaking to a Danish friend who was asking me when I usually celebrate the actual holiday, I realised two things: one, I have no idea what the custom is in France, and two, people are highly involved in this superficial debate. That’s when I decided to really look into it.
In the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Denmark and Finland (and perhaps even more countries), Christmas Eve, which is on 24 December, represents the start of Christmas. While shops tend to stay open in the morning to accommodate last-minute shoppers, in the afternoon, people start getting together with other family members to have dinner and deliver presents under the tree when no one is looking.
The 25 December, meanwhile, was originally considered more of a religious holiday spent worshipping, which explains why people still celebrate Christmas the day before. Now, why start one day early, you ask? A Christian liturgical day always starts and ends at sunset. In Southern Scandinavia, for example, the liturgical day on which Christ was born by tradition starts at 5 pm on the 24 and ends at the same time on the 25 December.
Celebrating Christmas on the 25 would imply having Christmas dinner the day after the event, as the liturgical day ends when the sun sets on the 25. Christmas Eve is therefore celebrated on the 24, while Christmas morning is celebrated on the 25, which also explains my confusion as to why some people—meaning me and my family—celebrate on both days.
However, even this explanation is not completely correct. Whether people celebrate the holiday on the 24 or the 25 varies from one country to another, even within one region. Furthermore, in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia, people celebrate Christmas on the 7 January during the next year due to their churches using the Julian calendar. Mad, right?
Christmas Eve simply means the evening before a religious holiday, Christmas in this case. This tradition of celebrating a specific holiday in the evening leading to that day goes all the way back to the Jewish calendar, on which each numbered ‘day’ of any month is considered to begin and end at sundown rather than at midnight. Jesus was, after all, Jewish.
That explains why, for many, Christmas starts at sundown on 24 December. The 25 is then considered the ‘Holy day’, which is spent praying and resting—basically minding your own business.
As mentioned previously, some churches (mainly Orthodox churches) use a different calendar for their religious celebrations. In Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and other countries, they use the old ‘Julian’ calendar and therefore celebrate Christmas on 7 January. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church also celebrates Christmas on the 7, which is the 29 of Tahsas in their calendar.
Most people in the Greek Orthodox church celebrate Christmas on 25 December but some still use the Julian calendar and so celebrate Christmas on 7 January too. Same applies to some Greek Catholics. In Armenia, the Apostolic church celebrates Christmas on 6 January 6.
There you have it, Christmas day can be celebrated on many different dates depending on where you live, which religious beliefs you hold, and long time traditions.
You know what chainsaws are, right? That big electric metal tool that is kind of pointy? The one that cuts through wood? Well, guess what? They weren’t invented for the wood, but for the womb. Simply put, chainsaws were originally invented for assisting childbirth. You’re probably clenching your legs together after reading that. I definitely am. Giving birth already seems like an unpleasant experience—to put it lightly.With a chainsaw you’ve got a horror movie. I’m thinking, Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
According to Popular Science, chainsaws were invented during the 18th century by two Scottish surgeons John Aitken and James Jeffray. Prior to the advancement of medical procedures like caesarean sections (considered dangerous due to the risk of infection), access to anaesthesia (it wasn’t perfect at the time) and other tools, babies had to be born naturally—duh, right? However, babies can sometimes get their limbs stuck in parts of the pelvic on their way out. The solution to this problem was defined as a ‘symphysiotomy’ at the time.
This was a medical procedure that involved cutting and removing some bone and cartilage in order to widen the birth canal during complicated births. Before the invention of the chainsaw, doctors would conduct this procedure with a regular saw (small in size) and a knife. Without anaesthesia. This would have proved a tortuous process for the soon-to-be mother, if she even made it that far. Sorry, that was morbid, but it’s the 1780s and they’re literally cutting bones out.
It was because of this obviously horrifying experience for the woman giving birth that Aitken and Jeffray began the development of their chainsaw—they were actually trying to make the cutting process easier, quicker and thus lessening the agony. The first model of the chainsaw consisted of a long chain with serrated teeth with handles on either end. While wrapped around the pelvic bone, doctors would alternately pull on each handle. This recurring movement outperformed the knife and was much faster in slicing through bone. This was later ‘improved’ through the addition of ‘hand crank,’ allowing the chain to rotate and thus becoming more like the chainsaw we know today.
Mental Floss wrote “Thanks to this innovation, difficult births could be described as merely agonising as opposed to extended torture.” Given the effectiveness of the device in cutting through bone, it remained in use through much of the 19th century—not only for childbirth but for other medical circumstances like amputation. Thankfully symphysiotomy is now an outdated surgical procedure.
All jokes aside, we can talk about how uncomfortable it makes us feel or how ridiculously shocking it is but at the end of the day there are real victims of symphysiotomy. Real women were put through an incredibly torturous and scarring process and they weren’t all from the 18th century. There have been horrifying accounts that over 1,500 women in the Republic of Ireland were unknowingly ‘symphysiotomically’ operated on without their consent between 1944 and 1987. That’s less than 40 years ago. Reports have suggested that this was largely encouraged and conducted by the Catholic Church—which reportedly preferred the method over cesareans.
Victims of the practice, mother and daughter, Matilda Behan and Bernadette founded the organisation Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SOS) in 2002. The group later gained momentum and caught the attention of the Irish Human Rights Commission. In 2008, the commission advised the government to set up an independent inquiry into the medical scandal—but the Minister of Health refused.
However, 2012 proved to be a marker of success for SOS and the survivors seeking justice. SOS cited the example of Olivia Kearney who was “awarded 325,000 euros in her court case against Doctor Gerard Connolly—who performed a post-caesarean section symphysiotomy on her in 1969. The court ruled that in 1969, symphysiotomies were no longer approved.”
While the procedure is still being used in some countries, the number of symphysiotomies as a whole is on the decline. Let’s keep the chainsaws for cutting down trees, shall we? Or better yet don’t use it at all. We’re in the middle of a climate emergency anyway.