14

I have recently seen weather forecasters making predictions for Christmas Eve Day, Christmas Eve Night, and for Christmas Day. One also reads of Christmas Eve Eve, with two eves.

Are those all meaningful and distinct (and clear to all!) , or are there redundancies or contradictions there? Is there a better way to say those?

Given the apparent existence of a Christmas Eve Day and a Christmas Eve Night, is the period between those Christmas Eve Eve, or is it just Christmas Eve? Or does Christmas Eve Eve mean the day (or the night?) before Christmas Eve, so two days then before Christmas proper?


Me, I always thought of the eve as being the night before a holiday (or anything else), not the entire calendar day before as it seems now to mean — and I wonder when and why that has changed.

So Christmas Eve Night seems like a pleonasm to me. And it seems that I am not alone based on this article published on Christmas Eve Eve Eve of 2012:

Just when I thought I was catching on to all the Christmas traditions, I hear the phrase “Christmas Eve eve” or “the eve of Christmas Eve.” When did that sneak in, and what the heck does it mean?

It looks like Easter Eve is (or at least was) sometimes used for Holy Saturday, sometimes the same as or related to Easter Vigil. Indeed, Anton Chekov wrote a story with the title Easter Eve about the night before Easter. But now we see people talking about Good Friday Eve instead of Maundy Thursday. Thanksgiving Eve has now been seen in the wild, and even Halloween Eve to mean October 30th, which seems to go by the name of Devil’s Night in some circles. Even so, Halloween Eve seems like another double: All Hallows’ Eve Eve.

10
  • 2
    I'd say that Xmas Eve Eve was the evening of Dec 23rd. I agree with Jay. It's just a joke. MW3UDE says: ": the evening or the day before a holiday, a saint's day, or any important day", which is not at all helpful, only equivocal (ambiguous) = "It's one or the other but I don't know which".
    – user21497
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 6:09
  • 2
    @BillFranke If Christmas Eve Eve is a joke, it is a not uncommon one. Here are 66 hits in the recent newswire alone.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 6:22
  • I think "Christmas Eve Eve" would be Dec 23. If there was a forecaster who used "Christmas Eve Eve" to mean roughly 5-7 PM on Dec 24, well, I'll just say, that forecaster had better be one damn accurate meteorologist! Otherwise, I'd go looking somewhere else for my weather information... :^)
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 11:55
  • 1
    @tchrist - You're not going to get a "detailed canonical answer" since the term is quite informal. But "eve" is generally accepted, in some contexts, to mean "the day before". Unless you're George Carlin, of course.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 1:51
  • 1
    I assume there's some kind of hat for starting or awarding a bounty.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 17:36

5 Answers 5

17
+200

Originally, "Christmas Eve" meant the night before Christmas day.

Today we count days from midnight to midnight. That is, we begin each new day at midnight. On the ancient Jewish calendar, the day went from sunset to sunset. That is, sunset marked the beginning of a new day. When Christians borrowed holidays from the Jews, they borrowed this idea of the holiday starting at sunset. (See, e.g., Catholic Doors Ministry presents Christmas Eve)

Somewhere along the line we switched to the Roman practice of starting the day at midnight, but retained the "eve" of some holidays as the night before. So the night before Christmas day, that is, the night of December 24, is Christmas Eve. The night before New Years, that is, December 31, is New Years Eve. (That's the only holidays I can think of where we do this. Nobody talks about "Fourth of July Eve" or "Veterans Day Eve". Maybe there are other examples.)

Many people now use "Christmas Eve" to mean the entire day before Christmas and not just the night. From there it's a short step, I guess, to saying "Christmas Eve Eve" to mean December 23. But this is not accepted practice; it's more of a joke.

12
  • 1
    I can find instances of “Thanksgiving Eve”, such as here on Wikipedia: “A traditional New England Thanksgiving, for example, consisted of a raffle held on Thanksgiving eve (in which the prizes were mainly geese or turkeys), a shooting match on Thanksgiving morning (in which turkeys and chickens were used as targets), church services, and then the traditional feast. . . .” And apparently Holy Saturday is sometimes called “Easter Eve”.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 6:20
  • 3
    There are also quite a few for Halloween Eve, which looks like another double like Christmas Eve Eve.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 6:30
  • 7
    @tchrist: Nah, let's not muddle the waters. Halloween Eve, at best, is a PIN number, while Christmas Eve Eve is a PI number number.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 17:19
  • @RegDwigнt some seem to be, some seem to be the sort of nonsensical misapplication of eve described here. At least one seems to be a female character named "Eve".
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 1:44
  • This is a good answer, but you might want to add something about the word "Eve" being obsolete outside of this usage. I think it will reinforce your point about OP's expression being mostly a joke.
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 23:24
6

Mrs. Claus introduced this terminology in 1987

SANTA: Not so merry. The elves are behind and it is Christmas Eve.

MRS. CLAUS: Yes, last night was Christmas Eve Eve.
And the night before that was Christmas Eve Eve Eve.
And the night before that was Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve

SANTA: I know dear.

MRS.CLAUS: My favorite is the day after Christmas. That's when I get to say Christmas followed by 364 Eves. Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve...

(Rough Night at the North Pole, first performed 12 December 1987, Group Repertory Theatre, North Hollywood California)

1
  • Or if next year is a leap year.... And I thought Christmas coming earlier every year was driven by commercialism:0 Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 11:39
4

According to Fowler's Concise Dictionary of Modern English Usage:

Eve means 'the evening or day before' (as in Christmas Eve) and, in figurative use, also means 'the time just before an event' (as in the eve of the election). In the following examples, eve is literal in the first two phrases, is figurative in the third and may be either in the last two:

  • on Christmas Eve
  • on the eve of Saint Agnes
  • on the eve of great developments
  • on the eve of a battle
  • on the eve of departure.

The meaning in particular cases is often clear from the context.

Christmas eve eve appears to be a colloquial form used to refer to the 23rd of December:

There is a UD entry for Christmas Eve Eve . Its 6k plus up thumbs probably make it worth a look.

  • The day before Christmas Eve, 2 days before Christmas.
  • Stay away from the malls on Christmas Eve Eve.
  • Today is Christmas Eve Eve.

From When The Snow Falls:

  • Today's Christmas Eve eve,” Roberta went on. “It's when Gary and I always celebrated. We never could do Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, as there were always his sisters and brother or his mom, when she was alive, and of course his dad, long ago. We made a pact to always celebrate on the twentythird . . . today.
2

Ecclesiastically, the eve of a feast was the night before. However, in common use, the eve is the day before.

Christmas Eve Eve isn't a commonly-used term, so has no formal definition but I interpret Christmas Eve as the day before Christmas, and Christmas Eve Eve as the day before that. (Or perhaps the Christmas ere-eve).

0

The question asks about an apparent ambiguity in the meaning of Christmas Eve Eve between:

(1) the evening of 24th December,

and

(2) 23rd December.

The OP finds it obvious that there is an ambiguity here, but seems to favour the first reading. If I understand him correctly, he regards the phrase, when used in the first sense, as pleonastic, but not defective in any other way. All four answers posted so far, however, seem to imply that, in so far as the phrase is meaningful at all, it has the second meaning, apparently on the ground that eve means the day before, and that it is applied here recursively. Everybody seems to agree that the phrase is informal, colloquial, and perhaps joking, but it is noteworthy that the four answerers all came on one side, in apparent opposition to the OP. Everybody involved is a well established contributor to this site, so neither side can be dismissed out of hand.

Chances are that different people mean different things by this phrase and that there is no definite answer as to whether (1) or (2) is the correct interpretation. Apart from the humorous uses, such as the one in DavePhD's answer, it is however not clear why anyone would ever need to use the phrase for 23rd December: it is an ordinary day and doesn't need a special name.

There are, however, circumstances in which there may be a genuine need to use it for the evening of 24th December, although even then it will be far from the best term for the purpose. To understand why this is is so, let's start with the uncontroversial fact that the original meaning of Christmas Eve was the evening of 24th December, and that this is still its primary meaning. Why do we have a special term for that evening, and not for the evenings before many other holidays? The answer is, of course, that Christians usually participate in Christmas-related religious activities at that time. Christmas Eve doesn't stand simply for the evening of 24th December, as determined by clocks, but is rather understood to mean something like the part of 24th December that is devoted to Christmas-related celebratory activities.

Traditionally, that part of 24th December was the evening, and the rest of the day was an ordinary working day. Over time, however, the boundary between the two parts of the day has been shifting: in much of the world, although the day is officially a working day, most businesses now close earlier than usual, and even during the hours when they are open, operate in a way that leaves a lot of room for celebratory spirit. That, I believe, explains why the meaning of Christmas Eve, in the minds of many people changed from the evening of 24th December to the whole day of 24th December.

The use of Christmas Eve for the whole day created a difficulty for those who wanted to refer specifically to the evening. They can, of course, continue to use Christmas Eve for that purpose and rely on the context to make it clear that it is intended in its original sense. When the context is not sufficient for the purpose (as may be the case in weather forecasts), one, however, needs to be more explicit about intending to refer to the evening. Christmas Eve Eve may be one, albeit clumsy, way of doing that. It can thus be regarded as a retronym of sorts.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.