Friday, 2 January 2009

Christmas Decoration Etiquette

What is the correct etiquette for putting up and taking down Christmas decorations?

I ask this because every year, Brighton City Council erects a small compound on Montpelier Crescent for discarded Christmas trees. These it processes into compost and mulch for its municipal gardens, an admirable example of recycling on our behalf (not quite as admirable as not buying the trees in the first place, perhaps, but we’ll leave that debate for another day).

What interests me is that the compound is erected on Christmas Eve, ready for the first trees on Boxing Day. And, sure enough, on Boxing Day afternoon the first trees appeared. Now, I was brought up on the notion that there were twelve days of Christmas, and that decorations should not be taken down until Twelfth Night (the night of 5th January). Other traditions hold that they should not be taken down until after Twelfth Night (ie on the 6th January) and others that they must not stay up beyond 6th January.

What all these have in common is the ancient notion that Christmas begins on Christmas Day and finishes twelve days later. I realise that few people actually put up their decorations as late as Christmas Eve, although this year I did (more because I didn’t get around to it earlier than adherence to Advent, if I’m honest).

Some churches also abide by this, erecting only a crib scene (minus the baby Jesus, of course) during Advent – a time, like Lent, that is supposed to be a period of fasting, reflection and repentance. But the pressures to begin early are hard to resist.

The modern preparations for Christmas begin the process weeks, if not months, in advance. Advent has disappeared as a season outside the church (even Advent Calendars depict presents, chocolates and other Christmassy items), and at least one national newspaper laments the fact that Christmas cards are on sale in one shop or another, some time around August.

But that doesn’t explain the hurry to get the whole thing over and done with, with rather indecent haste. Why ditch the tree the day after? It’s still a holiday; there’s still a Christmassy feel around (plenty on the telly, certainly); and there’s another holiday just 7 days later. It’s as if they’ve got fed up with the thing and can’t wait to return to normal, and hoover up all the dropped pine needles. Perhaps we need a campaign to reinstate the twelve days of Christmas?

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