Is There a Right Time to Take Down Your Christmas Decorations?
In this day and age, Christmas has for many become a secular holiday, associated less with the birth of Jesus than with family get-togethers and the eager exchange of presents. Therefore, many people make their decision on when to take down their Christmas decorations based on when it feels like the right time, rather than a prescribed date.
In some instances, they may associate their decision with certain obvious milestones, like Boxing Day or the arrival of the New Year. Sometimes, those milestones are of a more personal nature. My birthday is in early January, and when I was a child my parents always left the Christmas tree and the decorations up until my birthday had passed.
But, is there a right time to take down your Christmas tree and associated decorations? For those who still honor the original meaning of Christmas, or are at least trying to, there are in fact correct times to take the decorations down and pack them away until next year.
In some branches of Christianity, Twelfth Night (or Epiphany Eve) marks the coming of Epiphany on either the 5 th or 6 th of January. In the image a depiction of Twelfth Night Merry-Making. (Public domain)
The 12 Days of Christmas
In the modern age, most people know The 12 Days of Christmas as a lengthy Christmas song. A few intrepid souls even have it memorized, and can sing it all the way through without looking at a lyric sheet. But in Christianity the 12 days of Christmas are a real thing, with a deep connection to important spiritual figures. The 12 days Christmas tradition has been dated all the way back to the fourth century, and it is supposed to represent the time that passed between Jesus’s birth and the arrival of the Three Wise Men, or Magi, at the manger, where they first visited the future King of Kings.
In Catholicism, the countdown of the 12 days begins on December 26 and ends on January 6, the latter of which is observed as Epiphany Day. The Epiphany is an important day of observance in the Christian religion, as two important events in the life of Jesus are said to have taken place on that date—one being the arrival of the Magi at the manger, and the other being Jesus’s baptism at the hands of St. John the Baptist.
- Why Do We Put Up Christmas Trees? The Ancient Roots of this Decorative Tradition
- The Holly and the Mistletoe: Ancient Roots of Christmas Symbols
- Why Christmas is Held on December 25 th
In the Protestant tradition, Christmas Day on the 25th December is counted as the first of the 12 days, which makes January 5 the final day. Under this system, the arrival of the Magi would represent the beginning of the post-Christmasphase rather than its termination.
Despite this one small difference, both the Catholic and Protestant versions of the 12 days of Christmas observance provide a meaningful and appropriate milestone for those who would like to remove their Christmas decorations at the proper time. Removing them on Epiphany Day, or on the day after, links the decision to important dates in Christian history, which are closely associated with the Christmas observance.
Depending on what you believe, you can decide when to take the Christmas decorations. (olgasparrow / Adobe Stock)
There’s Always The 40 Days Alternative
There is good news for those who prefer to leave their tree and decorations up longer, however. In some religious traditions, it is said the Christmas season is actually 40 days long, not 12. According to this interpretation, the crucial date is February 2, when Jesus was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph, to be officially accepted into Judaism. February 2 is known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, or much more simply as Candlemas. On this day, observers light candles in honor of this critically important milestone in Jesus’s life.
Some believe Candlemas (or the following day) is the perfect time to remove all the celebratory paraphernalia associated with the Christmas celebration. They note the obvious relationship between the bright lights we hang at Christmas and the brightly lit candles that are displayed by worshippers on this sacred day.
Needless to say, this alternative tradition is ideal for those who are infected with extraordinary levels of Christmas spirit, and would prefer to leave their trees and lights up for as long as they possibly can.
These days, deciding when to take down the Christmas decorations is a personal choice, marking the end of the holiday season. (artiemedvedev / Adobe Stock)
In Search of the True Christmas Spirit
In January of 2019, the marketing research firm YouGov took a poll in the United States, inviting responses to one simple question: when do you take down your Christmas tree? The 1,046 men and women who participated in the survey answered as follows:
- On Christmas Day: four percent
- After Christmas but before New Year’s Day: 16 percent
- During the first week of January: 37 percent
- Later in January: 13 percent
- In February or beyond: two percent
- I don’t know or am unsure: two percent
- We don’t put up a Christmas tree in our home: 26 percent
It seems certain that only a small percentage of these respondents were making their decisions based on any specific religious considerations. It is interesting, however, that the largest share of respondents by far selected the first week of January as the right time to take their trees down. This coincides quite nicely with the ending of the 12 days of Christmas, which suggests many people have been somehow influenced by this tradition without actually realizing it.
Ultimately, everyone has to decide for themselves when they should take their decorations down. But for those who would like to add a more spiritual element to their future holiday observances, there are revered traditions they can turn to for inspiration.
Top image: Is there really a right time to take down my Christmas decorations? A look into ancient religious tradition says yes. Source: famveldman / Adobe Stock
By Nathan Falde