when to take your Christmas tree down, and other Twelfth Night traditions

While New Year’s Day marks the end of the Christmas period, remnants of the holiday festivities still remain. The surplus of food will be used to make meals until it comes to its natural end, but when to take down your Christmas tree and decorations continues to be an ongoing debate. 

Is January 5 or 6 the best day to tackle the task? And what happens if you leave them up for longer? Are you really struck down with bad luck for the rest of the year as superstition would have you believe?

One thing’s for sure – everyone does it differently, and everyone has their own ideas.

When should you take your Christmas decorations down?

In Britain, tradition has it that Christmas decorations stay up until Twelfth Night. 

Twelfth Night is a festival in some branches of Christianity which marks the beginning of Epiphany.  A count of exactly 12 days from 25 December arrives at January 5. According to the Church of England, this day is Twelfth Night. The day of Epiphany – when the three wise men came – is the day after, on January 6. 

Not everyone agrees however. Many other Christian groups count the 12 days of Christmas as starting the day after Christmas Day – making January 6 the Twelfth Night. Countries which also follow the January 6 tradition include Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. 

So which date is correct? 

Both. Although in the UK, Wednesday 5 January 2022 is the date most people will stick to.

What if you forget to take down your Christmas decorations?

Most people think that it’s bad luck to leave your decorations up after January 5.

Some people think it’s also wrong to take them down too early, too. In ancient times, people believed that tree-spirits lived in the holly and ivy. After the festive season, they would be released outside but if they were let go before Christmas ended, there could be problems with the harvest as a result.

According to one superstition, Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night should be left up until Candlemas Day (February 2) and then taken down. Other people say the best remedy is to leave them up until Twelfth Night the following year.

Whatever date you choose, it is worth noting that the ‘rules’ have changed over history. February 2, in fact, actually used to be the date when Christians took their decorations down, as noted in this poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674):

“Down with the rosemary, and so 

“Down with the bays and mistletoe;

“Down with the holly, ivy, all, 

“Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall”

Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve

In these more modern times, though, most of us stick to Twelfth Night as the correct date.

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