When Should You Put Up Your Christmas Tree?

Is there a proper time?

The 2007 Christmas Tree in Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)
The 2007 Christmas Tree in Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City. Scott P. Richert

Every year, it seems that Christmas decorations start appearing a little bit earlier, and stores are now playing Christmas music even before Thanksgiving (and a few stores even start before Halloween!). In many parts of the United States, fresh Christmas trees go on sale on Thanksgiving Day, and many people now decorate their Christmas trees the weekend after Thanksgiving. But is there a proper time to put up your Christmas tree?

The Traditional Answer

Traditionally, Catholics and most other Christians did not put up their Christmas trees until after noon on Christmas Eve. The same was true of all Christmas decorations. The purpose of the tree and the decorations is to celebrate the feast of Christmas, which begins with the celebration of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve; by putting our Christmas trees up early, we anticipate the feast of Christmas, and Christmas Day itself can lose some of its sense of joyfulness when it finally does arrive.

Shortchanging Advent

Because of the commercialization of Christmas and the modern creation of a "holiday season" that begins on Thanksgiving Day and runs through Christmas Day (or perhaps through New Year's Day), most Christians today spend the entire season of Advent celebrating Christmas rather than preparing for it. It's natural, in the cold, gray days of winter, to want to enjoy the pleasures of hearth and home, and the greenery of the tree and the colors of the decorations add to that enjoyment.

But we can get some of those same pleasures, while still preserving the Advent season, by taking part in Advent activities and devotions, such as the Advent wreath and Advent calendars.

Gaudete Sunday: A Reasonable Compromise

Of course, these days, if you wait until Christmas Eve to purchase your Christmas tree, you are likely to end up with a sad, spindly looking stick like the one that Charlie Brown brings to the Christmas pageant in A Charlie Brown Christmas.

(On the other hand, you might get your tree at a very low price, or even free, but that's not necessarily a good thing.) But holding off on purchasing a tree until Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, and then decorating it as late as possible is a reasonable compromise.

Even if circumstances make it necessary to put up the Christmas tree earlier in Advent, we can still maintain some sense of the Advent season by not lighting the lights until Christmas Eve, or by putting out our most precious decorations (and perhaps the star for the top of the tree) only once Christmas Eve rolls around. Such practices, as well as other Christmas Eve customs, increase the sense of expectation, especially among young children, and make Christmas Day all the more joyful.