When it comes to Christmas decorations, every family has its own set of rules and traditions. Real or fake tree? Gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Decorate before or after Thanksgiving? And when all is said and done: undecorate immediately or leave everything up as long as possible for maximum impact?
Unsurprisingly, the answers to that last question are often the most varied. Some of us break out in hives on December 26, itching to clear the clutter. Others last until the first week of January so everyone can fully appreciate our efforts. A few are even happy to keep the festive feels on display until, like, Valentine’s Day. (Whether that’s because you love Christmas or you’re too lazy to be bothered is between you and your tree.)
While there’s no right or wrong answer, we did some research to find that there actually are some rules you can follow, if you’re so inclined.
In plenty of houses, Christmas has become a secular holiday that’s more about togetherness and good cheer than it is about the birth of Jesus Christ. But if the religious aspect of Christmas is your main reason for the season, then that could determine how long your halls remain decked.
Various branches of Christianity dictate that the tree should stay up until the day after Epiphany—which is generally acknowledged on January 6. This is known as the night when baby Jesus was visited by the Three Wise Men (or the Magi) with their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Once Epiphany has passed, then the season is officially considered over and your tree can come down.
Alternatively, some revelers, both Christian and non, acknowledge the Twelfth Night… widely agreed to be January 5th. This is because the Twelve Days of Christmas actually start on Christmas Day. Who knew the twelve drummers were drumming that long after Christmas?!
We did some digging, and while the non-religious origins of the Twelfth Night vary, one reason for celebrating this as a secular day potentially dates back to Victorian times, marking when businesses in England would re-open after the holiday break. In many instances, this was often treated as one more day of celebrations before normal life resumed. The end of Christmas was met with cake, music, games, and, yes: undecorating.
But whether your reasons for celebrating either Epiphany or the Twelfth Night are religious or not, be timely! For the superstitious among us, it’s been said that waiting too long after either date might bring bad luck. Similarly, other cultures believe your tree should be down and your decorations should be stashed before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. Otherwise, you might be faced with bad luck for the coming year.
However, before you set an alarm for 11 pm on the 31st, Roman Catholics and the Queen of England both disagree wholeheartedly—with both suggestions. In Catholicism, the tree can remain even longer than Epiphany… they keep their firs out until February 2nd, according to the traditions of Candlemas. This commemorates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and is a celebration of the purification of Mary, exactly forty days after the birth of her son.
Queen Elizabeth’s reasons for keeping her decorations up are less festive and far more somber. She keeps her tree up until February 6, which marks the anniversary of the death of King Georg VI, her father. Fans of The Crown might remember that he passed away in 1952 at Sandringham House where, until this year, the royal family famously spends Christmas. Only upon returning to Buckingham Palace are the decorations then removed at the family’s Norfolk estate.
Your Real Tree Is Dying or Dead
If you’re only concerned with practicalities and you have a real tree, then your best bet is letting your tree be your guide. Watch for yellow or browning needles that are crunchy to the touch, because this is a sure sign of a fire hazard. Look into local recycling programs for an eco-conscious solution, or better yet: purchase a potted Christmas tree that you can replant.
It's Up to You
So, while these are all points well worth mentioning: consider it unsettled. Just as we put our trees and garlands up when it makes us happiest, we can collectively agree that that’s the best way to decide when to take them all down, too.