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The Jolly Rancher: A Great Epiphany

A marital dispute takes an unexpected turn down the rabbit hole of Christmas traditions — and timing.

  • By
  • | 1:30 p.m. November 19, 2020
  • East County
  • LWR Life
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When do you take your Christmas tree down? 

If you’re like most people — and I’ve looked at what is surely very rigorous internet polling data on the subject — you do it sometime around New Year’s Day. And it depends on how the weekend squares with your Christmas cheer; those of you who love the season probably push it to the weekend after New Year’s, even if it’s a full seven days after, and those of you whose hearts are two sizes too small take them down the first chance you get.

There’s a third group though, about 1 in 7 people, who leave the tree up for what’s known as “far too long.” Until visitors do a double take at seeing such a relic. Until the HOA sends a warning. Until it becomes a real fire hazard. Naturally, I’m one of those people.

Or at least I would be if my wife allowed such shenanigans. Left to her own devices, she’d be firmly in the “weekend after New Year’s” clique. And yes, I get that the thing’s been up for well over a month at that point and that the season has got to end at sometime, but let me counter with this: In the Philippines, the season lasts five months. Reread that. Yes, it says five. From the beginning of September all the way through the end of January. Now even to me that’s a little much, not because of the length really but due to the fact that Halloween and Thanksgiving also need their own monthlong decoration seasons. (They don’t do Thanksgiving in the Philippines, but I am curious about the interplay of Halloween and Christmas decorations — must be very “Nightmare Before Christmas.”) 

In any case, the end of January sounds to me like a perfectly reasonable time to end the Christmas season. There’s a certain balance to it, too. You have about a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day and then another month after, leaving the main event right in the middle. It might even be poetic. 

Don’t worry: The wife didn’t buy that either. And so, this being a very important problem in a marriage with me, I reached for the conflict resolution tool called internet research. Was there an actual consensus on when the decorations should come down? Well, surprisingly, it turns out that yes, there is. And not from internet polls, either, but from 1,500 years of history. Most importantly, though: Is leaving the tree up until the end of January really “far too long”? Also yes. Probably.

For most of my life, I thought the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song was the musical equivalent of a Dalí painting: surreal and whimsical. By the end of it, the guy has sent more than 42 geese-a-laying! How is that even logistically possible, to find that many geese that are actively laying an egg? Do the lords-a-leaping have a leaping schedule? Surely they need to rest. And why are they leaping to begin with? Is it supposed to be entertaining? And if so, why is nobility doing it and not, like, acrobats? And so on, with all those baffling “gifts,” but also including the fact that they’re celebrating Christmas for 12 days, which is kind of a ridiculously long amount of time. 

Except that — and here was the surprising thing — it’s not because it’s been officially and exactly that long since the year 567, when the church defined the Christmas season at the Council of Tours. Most Christian denominations follow what’s called a “liturgical calendar,” which divides the calendar up into several “seasons” around Christmas and around Easter — seasons like Lent. The rest of the year is called “Ordinary Time,” to really drive home how boring it is. 

Advent is one of these seasons, and it starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas — around the beginning of December. It’s followed by the main season of Christmastide, which starts at sunset on Christmas Eve and goes for 12 days, until a holiday called Epiphany, which is the day the Magi finally found Jesus. After Epiphany, the situation’s a little murkier, with some traditions calling it Ordinary Time until Lent and others celebrating Epiphanytide, which is a continuation of the Christmas season and — as if I’d designed it myself — goes on until another holiday you’ve never heard of, called Candlemas, which is when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, on Feb. 2.

I’d never expected to get such cut-and-dried answers to such an important question. I expected more of a WebMD experience, telling me five different things, one of which would be horrible, like taking the tree down Dec. 26. But there it was: quite the epiphany, in no uncertain terms. And so, because Feb. 2 was a nonstarter, we take the tree down when Christmas season officially ends Jan. 6. But please know that in France, they celebrate Candlemas with crepes and by lighting all the candles in the house. Nice, right?

One last tidbit: In some countries, such as Spain, they don’t do the gift giving Christmas Day, which is the first day of Christmas, but rather wait until the 12th day, Jan. 5. And in others still, they exchange gifts on all 12 days, kind of like Hanukkah. Don’t let your kids find out.