When should you take your Christmas tree down, according to tradition

christmas ornament on tree

According to this old Southern tradition, taking your tree down too early, or too late, could be bad luck (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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Last year, our Christmas tree came down on December 26. Technically, it came down a day earlier due to a tree malfunction, but we’ll get back to that. 

However, it left me pondering the philosophical question: When should you take down your Christmas tree? 

And it turns out, an old Appalachian tradition may hold the answer.

In our house, we have a fairly rigid family tradition that involves getting a real Christmas tree. There’s a guy who comes down from Michigan each year with trees from his farm.

He sets up in an empty lot beside a furniture business with a beat-up camper. He’s our guy. 

Every year in November, on the weekend after Thanksgiving, we go get our Michigan tree and get it set up. With young kids, we like to get as many days in the Christmas season as possible. 

We also have family come in on New Year’s Eve to celebrate Christmas. In the past, we’ve tried to leave the tree up, but through the last couple of years, needle loss has made that difficult. 

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Our Christmas tree malfunction

Last year we traveled for Thanksgiving and didn’t get one of those beautiful evergreen trees until a full week later. I had hoped that would mean the tree would survive until the New Year. It didn’t. 

We didn’t get it into the stand correctly. It looked straight from the front, but after we decorated it, we found that it was tilting forward. I made some rudimentary adjustments, and it worked until it didn’t. 

On Christmas Day I was dishing out presents like Magic Johnson on a fast break when I realized I couldn’t reach some of the presents in the back.

I assigned my nine-year-old to crawl under and bring the other presents out. He had finished the job and was fully under the tree when he must have knocked the stand off of its precarious perch and … well … timber. 

There were screams – a bit melodramatic if you ask me – and frightened dogs.

My son emerged covered in a sea of needles, a handful of ornaments and a few tears. We propped the thing up and took it down, officially, the next day. 

There is now, friends, serious talk of an artificial tree for next year.

christmas tree in a cabin surrounded by gifts
“Old Christmas” typically falls on January 6 or 7 (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

When should you take your Christmas tree down?

Some people have a superstition that it’s bad luck to leave up a Christmas tree past the New Year. But for people like me, the best time to take down the tree is as late as possible to preserve that feeling of Christmas.

And I’m in good company. 

Dolly Parton reportedly leaves hers up until January 19 (aka her birthday). 

“I put up my Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving,” Parton said on the podcast Cody Cast with Cody Alan.

“I celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving until my birthday on the 19th of January and I always make them leave my decorations up ’till after my birthday, cause I am still celebrating.”

But for others, there’s a more practical reason. Some celebrate Christmas on January 6th or 7th. This is known as Old Christmas.

Read Also: Why the Appalachians use to celebrate Christmas on Jan 6

What is Old Christmas?

The idea of Old Christmas lingers in some mountain families and Eastern Orthodox religions that celebrate Christmas on January 7.

The crux of the issue is an ancient calendar dispute that involved a massive leap 12 days forward to correct problems with the Julian calendar, which dates back to the Romans and Julius Caesar.

Many chose not to adopt Pope Gregory XIII’s calendar and kept celebrating what they perceived as the “correct” day. 

The tradition, that many of the immigrants from Great Britain to the Appalachian mountains brought with them, is called Old Christmas. Sometimes it is referred to as Twelfth Night (the 12th day of Christmas).

That mountain practice has mostly been phased out, but many families recognize the old and new dates as a way to celebrate their past. 

At the time, Old Christmas was widely celebrated in the mountains, the day was January 6 which also happened to be Epiphany – Christian feast day – or the day the wise men arrived at the manger in Bethlehem with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for baby Jesus.

Today, the continuing issue with the Julian Calendar has pushed Old Christmas to the 7th while Epiphany, or the end of the twelve days of Christmas, remains on the 6th for many people.

However, even that date is fluid according to culture and custom and whether you count the first day of Christmas as December 25 or December 26.

Whenever the date, there are some Christians who believe that you should take your Christmas tree and holiday decor down on January 7. This officially marks the end of Christmas.

large outdoor tree at the inn at christmas place in pigeon forge tn
The Christmas Place and The Inn at the Christmas Place leave their trees up year-round (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is it bad luck to take your Christmas tree down early?

Yes, some people consider it bad luck to take your Christmas tree down too early or too late in the season.

But I think Dolly pretty well disproves that theory right off the bat with her January 19 tradition. 

However, I also assume anyone who keeps their tree(s) up that long is probably using an artificial evergreen.

pink tree at chasing rainbows museum at dollywood during christmas
Dolly Parton has said she leaves her tree up until her birthday in January. Above: Dolly’s Christmas at the Dollywood theme park (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

A tip for taking down your Christmas tree

Allow me to pass on a bit of genius that is useful no matter when you take down your artificial tree.

I have a Christmas-obsessed friend who decorates her home with multiple trees.

Does she tear each tree down, one by one, storing the ornaments for next year?

Reader, she does not. She has a big old thing of cellophane and shrink wraps that sucker up tight. She stores it that way all year and when the time comes, she takes a razor, cuts that wrap off, does a little fluffing and it’s Christmas time in two easy steps. 

I’ve seen it done. It’s amazing. I would be reluctant to try it, but it works for her. 

Do you follow the Southern tradition of taking your tree down on January 7? If not, when do you take your tree down? Let us know in the comments below.

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