It’s an age-old question that brings its own judgment game – how long do you leave your Christmas decorations up? Have you ever wondered why anyone else could do this?
In Canada and other countries of the British Empire, Boxing Day is celebrated as its own special holiday, and these Christmas decorations are dropped and packed on December 26. Even the banks are closed. With Western commercialism ushering in the Christmas season seemingly earlier and earlier every year, these days more and more trees tend to come up before Thanksgiving – and even right after Halloween. I guess one can get tired and be prepared not to decorate if the hallways have been decorated for this long – let alone if there is a real tree that has laid bare. Some traditions say it is a bad omen to leave the Christmas lights on after January 1, while some Christians celebrate Epiphany, the traditional day when the Magi visited the Baby Jesus, where the 12 days Christmas come into play, by the way. Oh yes, December 25 is only the first Christmas day ! Others who observe Candlemas wait until it is over – February 2 – to decorate.
Growing up, my mother always kept our house decorated for Christmas until the Sunday after my birthday, which is the first week of January. You see, my father was the pastor of our church, and one of my aunts and several cousins went to church with us. This meant that our very large group shared Sunday lunch most Sunday afternoons, but particularly on bank holidays and special Sundays. We usually celebrated my birthday the following Sunday, and Mom always wanted the house to always be decked out in all the pretty Christmas decorations when our guests came over to celebrate.
I’m sure when I was a kid there were probably years when life circumstances got in the way of plans. There may have been years where the tree was left too long and our personal boxing day came closer to the end of the month. I remember being embarrassed once by taunts from bratty kids who said things like, “You mean you still have your Christmas decorations? Ewwwww!” I mean, come on, it wasn’t even Valentine’s Day yet!
I’m sure it had little to do with mom being a mother of four, working, picking up after us, and just being in her 40s. However, once we learned of the tradition of leaving our decorations until after Epiphany, we had a good excuse – uh, it’s raison – to leave things festive.
Now that I’m older than my mother at the time and feel the fear of re-canning all the beauty, I have my own traditions. I’ve definitely carried on the tradition of leaving decorations until after Epiphany – or the Sunday after my birthday. But now I have an even more precious reason why my tree won’t fall before…
One of the most sacred traditions I have started with my family is our annual Christmas tree photo. It all started on Christmas Eve 1999 when my husband made me unwrap an early present. It was an Olympus 35mm point-and-shoot 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 in the evening, and I gathered my 3 year old son and my husband under the tree just to try out the timer function on my new toy. In a flash, a new tradition was born.
Every year since 1999, my little family prioritizes our annual Christmas tree photo shoot, coordinating outfits, dragging dogs, American Girl dolls… whatever… and posing under the tree. As musicians, life and work didn’t always allow us to take that photo before Christmas as we played and sang while others posed for the cameras. I’ve always managed to get our special photo done before the end of January, even some years when everything else was put away – except for the tree which hadn’t been lit for a few weeks but was still sitting in our living room. looking forward to a night where we could all be together on a good hair day.
Now that our kids are adults and live four hours away, it just so happens to be one of those years where our plans didn’t line up to create that special family memory. But I’m still waiting, and I can assure you that this tree will stay standing until the next time my chicks are all in the nest and we can take that picture together. And you can judge me until Easter, but I will have this picture!
Whatever your Christmas traditions, I hope you enjoy the beauty while you can. Savor the peace. Let joy invade you. Find the goal. And by all means, share the love and the Christmas light.
One of my favorite songs after Christmas that I sing almost every year on the Sunday after Christmas is “After December Slips Away”. I love it and I leave you with the lyrics:
“The season only comes once a year
A precious gift of wonder
For all who care
But past the sights and the colored lights
Lord, way beyond December
I will remember
After the chants fade away
After Yule’s fire is extinguished
When there are no more dreams to open and see
Because you are hope, joy and peace
‘Cause you’re the only gift I need
In my heart the season will remain
After December slips away.