It's Important to Know When to Take Down Your Christmas Tree

There's a reason to keep it up after Christmas Day

Illuminated Christmas tree in entrance hall
Christmas trees are festive, but only for so long. Ryan McVay / Getty Images

One of the saddest sights of Christmas is to see Christmas trees out at the curb on December 26. At the very moment when the Christmas season has finally begun, all too many people seem to be ready to bring it to an early end. When should you take down your Christmas tree and other Christmas decorations?

The Traditional Answer

Traditionally, Catholics did not take down their Christmas trees and other Christmas decorations until January 7, the day after Epiphany. The Twelve Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day; the period before that is Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas end on Epiphany, the day that the Three Wise Men came to pay homage to the Child Jesus.

Cutting the Christmas Season Short

So why do so few people keep their Christmas trees and other decorations up until Epiphany? The short answer is that we have forgotten what the "Christmas season" means. For many reasons, including the desire of businesses to encourage Christmas shoppers to buy early and buy often, the separate liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas have run together, essentially replacing Advent (especially in the United States) with an extended "Christmas season." Because of that, the actual Christmas season gets lost.

By the time Christmas Day comes, people are ready to pack up the decorations, and the tree—which they may have put up as early as Thanksgiving weekend—is probably past its prime. With needles turning brown and dropping, and branches drying out, the tree may be an eyesore at best and a fire hazard at worst. And even though savvy shopping and proper care for a cut tree (or the use of a live tree that can be planted outside in the spring) can extend the life of a Christmas tree, let's be honest—after a month or so, the novelty of having a major piece of nature in your living room tends to wear off.

Celebrate Advent So We Can Celebrate Christmas

So how do we break out of this conundrum? Until someone breeds a supertree that stays perfectly fresh for weeks on end, putting up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving will probably continue to mean tossing it out the day after Christmas.

If, however, you were to revive the older tradition of putting up your Christmas tree and decorations closer to Christmas Day itself, then your tree would remain fresh until Epiphany. More importantly, you could begin to distinguish once against between the Advent season and the Christmas season. That would allow you to celebrate Advent to its fullest. In keeping your decorations up after Christmas Day, you could find a renewed sense of joy in celebrating all Twelve Days of Christmas.

You will find that this tradition will match how your local Roman Catholic church is decorated. Before Christmas Eve, you will find it minimally decorated for Advent. It is only on Christmas Eve that the Nativity Scene and decorations surrounding the altar are placed to herald the end of waiting for the birth of the Savior. Likewise, these will remain until the Epiphany.