It’s an age-old question that brings its own set of judgy-ness — how long do you leave your Christmas decorations up? Have you ever wondered why someone else might?
In Canada and other British empire countries, Boxing Day is celebrated as its own special holiday, and those Christmas decorations come down and get boxed up on Dec. 26. Even the banks are closed. With Western commercialism introducing the Christmas season seemingly earlier and earlier each year, these days, more and more trees tend to go up before Thanksgiving — and even right after Halloween. I suppose one may grow tired and be ready to undecorate if the halls have been decked that long — not to mention if there’s a real tree that’s shedded itself bare. Some traditions say it’s a bad omen to leave the Christmas lights up after Jan. 1, whereas some Christians celebrate Epiphany, the traditional day the Wise Men visited the Christ Child, which is where that whole 12 days of Christmas thing comes in, by the way. Oh yes, Dec. 25 is only the first day of Christmas! Others who observe Candlemas wait until it’s over — on Feb. 2 — to undecorate.
Growing up, my mom always kept our house decorated for Christmas through the Sunday after my birthday, which is the first week of January. See, my dad was the pastor of our church, and one of my aunts and several cousins attended church with us. That meant our very large group shared Sunday lunch almost every Sunday afternoon — but particularly on holidays and special Sundays. We generally celebrated my birthday the Sunday after it, and Mom always wanted the house to still be decorated with all the pretty Christmas decor when our guests came over to celebrate.
I’m sure when I was a child, there were probably years when life’s circumstances jumped in the way of plans. There may have been some years when the tree got left up way too long and our personal boxing day got pushed closer to the end of the month. I remember getting embarrassed once by the taunts of bratty kids saying things like, “You mean you still have your Christmas decorations up? Ewwwww!” I mean, come on, it wasn’t even Valentine’s Day yet!
I’m sure it didn’t have much to do with Mom being a mother of four, working, picking up after the rest of us and just quite plainly, being in her 40s. However, once we learned about the tradition of leaving up our decorations until after Epiphany, we had a good excuse — er, that is reason — to leave things festive.
Now that I’m older than my mom was then and feeling every bit of the dread of re-boxing up all the beauty, I have my own traditions. I definitely carried over the tradition of leaving the decorations up until after Epiphany — or the Sunday after my birthday. But now, I have an even more treasured reason that my tree just won’t come down until …
One of the most sacred traditions I began with my family is our annual Christmas tree picture. It started on Christmas Eve 1999 when my husband had me unwrap an early gift. It was a point-and-shoot 35mm Olympus with an automatic timer. I was so excited to have a camera with a timer, so naturally, I wanted to try it out when we got home! We were all still dressed up from our party with his family earlier that evening, and I gathered my 3-year-old son and husband under the tree just to try out the timer function on my new toy. With a flash, a new tradition was born.
Every year since 1999, my little family has prioritized our annual Christmas tree photoshoot, coordinating outfits, dragging in the dogs, American Girl dolls … whatever … and posing under the tree. Being musicians, life and work haven’t always allowed us to take that photo before Christmas as we played and sang while others posed for cameras. I’ve always managed to have our special photo done before the end of January, even in some years when everything else got put away — except the tree that hadn’t been turned on in a few weeks but definitely still sat in our living room waiting for a night we could all be together on a good hair day.
Now that our children are adults and live four hours away, this happens to be one of those years when our plans didn’t align to create that special family memory. But I’m still waiting, and I can assure you that that tree is staying up until the next time my chicks are all in the nest and we can take that photo together. And you can judge me all the way ‘til Easter, but I’ll be getting that picture!
Whatever your Christmas traditions are, I hope you will enjoy the beauty while you can. Relish the peace. Let the joy wash over you. Find the purpose. And by all means, share the love and light of Christmas.
One of my favorite after-Christmas songs I sing almost every year on the Sunday after Christmas is “After December Slips Away.” I love and will leave you with the lyrics:
“The season comes but once a year
A gift of precious wonder
For all who hold it dear
But past the sights and colored lights
Lord, far beyond December
I will remember
After the carols fade away
After the Yule fire dies down
When there are no longer dreams to open and see
Because You are hope and joy and peace
Because You’re the only gift I need
In my heart the season will remain
After December slips away.”