This year our Christmas tree came down on December 26. Well, 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.
Our personal family tradition
In our house, we have a fairly rigid family tradition about putting up the Christmas tree. There’s a guy who comes down from Michigan each year – been doing it more than 30 years – with trees from his farm.
He sets up in an empty lot beside a furniture business with a beat-up camper that has likely made all 30 trips if I was to hazard a guess.
He’s our guy.
Every year, 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.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have family come in at New Year’s 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 nearly impossible.
Our Christmas tree malfunction
This year we traveled for Thanksgiving and didn’t get our tree until a full week later. I had hoped that would mean the tree would survive to the New Year.
In setting up our tree this year, 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 to lift the front of the stand and keep the tree from pitching forward.
It worked until it didn’t.
Christmas morning 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 its precarious perch and … well … timber.
There were screams – a bit melodramatic if you ask me – and frightened dogs.
John Paul was stuck under the tree for just a few seconds and 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.
When should you take your Christmas tree down?
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.
None other than the Queen, Dolly Parton, 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 … they celebrate Christmas on January 6-7.
How taking down your tree on January 7 became a southern tradition
The idea of Old Christmas lingers in some mountain families – as well as 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 on what they perceived as the “correct” day.
The tradition, which many of the immigrants from Great Britain to the Appalachian mountains brought with them, is called Old Christmas.
That mountain practice has mostly died 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 – or the day the wise men arrived at the manger.
Today, the continuing issue with the Julian Calendar has pushed Old Christmas to the 7th while Epiphany, or the 12th day 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 many who believe that you should take your Christmas tree and holiday decor down on January 7.
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.
A tip for taking down your artificial 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 terrified 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.