When to Take Down Your Christmas Tree

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

Christmas tree on the curb for garbage
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One of the saddest sights of the Christmas season is trees sitting out on the curb on December 26. At the very moment when the Christmas season has finally begun, all too many people seem ready to bring it to an early end. But if not on December 26, when should you take down your Christmas tree?

The Traditional Answer

Traditionally, Catholics do not take down their Christmas trees and holiday decorations until January 7, the day after Epiphany. The 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day; the period before that is known as Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas. The 12 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

Some may not keep their Christmas trees and other decorations up until Epiphany if they've forgotten what the "Christmas season" means. For various 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 has been forgotten.

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—it's 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

Until someone breeds a super-tree 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 again between the Advent season and the Christmas season. This would allow you to celebrate Advent to its fullest. In keeping your decorations up after Christmas Day, you will find a renewed sense of joy in celebrating all 12 days of Christmas.

You will also find that this tradition matches 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 the decorations surrounding the altar are placed to herald the birth of the savior, remaining on display until Epiphany.