What About the Tree?

For many people, Christmas ends on Christmas day, so over the ensuing few days, amidst the various after-Christmas sales, the trees are unceremoniously taken down and dragged out to the curb.

But for those of us who do have a sense of Christmas extending beyond December 25th, the question still remains: When does Christmas season actually end? When should we take down not only our tree, but also other seasonal items such as nativity sets?

Traditionally, Christmas season is twelve days (like the song), which would take us to January 6th, the traditional date for celebrating the Epiphany, when the wise men brought gifts to the child Jesus. Now Epiphany is only approximately 12 days after Christmas, as it falls on the second Sunday after Christmas. This year, since Christmas was last Saturday, the feast of the Epiphany will take place this coming Sunday, January 2nd. 

But while Epiphany is an important feast within the context of the Christmas season, it doesn”t bring about the end of the Christmas season. The Christmas season ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, at which point “Ordinary Time” begins. The Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord is thus the second Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The Baptism of the Lord usually falls on the Sunday after Epiphany, which this year will be January 9th.

Lastly, prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Christmas season extended all the way to February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (aka Purification of Our Lady or Candlemas), based on Luke 2:22-38. While that is no longer the case, there is still something of a Christmas “flavor” to the early weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to the Presentation of the Lord.

But what does all that have to do with taking down my tree? And besides, if I wait too long to take it down, the garbage trucks won”t take it!

Well, rest assured there are no “rules” on all this. My recommendation, based on the liturgical season, is to keep Christmas decorations up till the Baptism of the Lord (January 9th). If that seems a little extreme for your household, I”d counsel at least waiting till after Epiphany (January 2nd). That”s especially true for nativity sets that include the three wise men.

And after all, why cut short “the most wonderful time of the year”?

5 Responses to “What About the Tree?”

  1. Carson Weber says:

    Isn”t Epiphany celebrated on January 6th in countries where it is a Holy Day of Obligation (e.g., Rome)? (Whereas we Americans are a bit different…)

    I”m partial to the January 6th celebration since it”s the day of my own natal manifestation!

  2. leon says:

    You”re absolutely right, Carson. Canon 1246 lists ten holy days, and Epiphany is one of them. However, the bishops” conference has the discretion to abolish or move some of the holy days of obligation. In the U.S., we don”t celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, or the feast of St. Joseph, as a holy day of obligation. Other holy days have been transferred to Sunday, like Corpus Christi and the Epiphany. As you note, not all countries have taken that approach to the Epiphany.

    Just don”t get me started on "Ascension Sunday"!

  3. leon says:

    P.S. Carson, if you play your cards right, you should be able to score two birthday celebrations each year!

  4. Carson Weber says:

    Leon: You”re right! Jan 6 and Feb 25, my birth and rebirth.

  5. leon says:

    Well then three–because you get January 6th and the moveable feast of Epiphany for your first birth . . . :)

Leave a reply