When am I supposed to put up my Christmas tree? And when do I take it down? I am told that one should never leave one's Christmas tree up longer than 12 days after Christmas Day--why and where does this practice come from?It seems that every year, stores put up their Christmas decorations earlier and earlier, and more people are following suit. A few blocks from my house, someone had put up a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving! It's hard to imagine how the tree will survive until Christmas Day--and I'd bet that it will be on the curb on December 26.
When should we put up our Christmas tree? The answer has to do with the proper understanding of the relationship between Advent and Christmas.
Advent is not the "Christmas season," but a period of preparation for Christmas. If we had a friend who started celebrating his birthday four weeks in advance, we'd think him a bit odd (at best). Yet every year, that's how most Christians (at least in the United States) celebrate Christmas. Then, when Christmas Day finally arrives, they can't wait to get it over with.
And yet, on Christmas Day, the Christmas season has only just begun! The twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day, and they end on Epiphany (January 6). Traditionally, Catholics put up the Christmas tree--and all the Christmas decorations--on Christmas Eve. They then kept them up throughout the twelve days of Christmas, and took them down on January 7.
But what should we do during Advent, if we're not celebrating Christmas all month long? We should spend Advent the way that the Church intends us to spend it--in prayer and preparation for the coming of Christ. For some ideas on how to do so, see Celebrating Advent.
If we begin to celebrate both Advent and Christmas as they are meant to be celebrated, we won't cheat ourselves; in fact, we'll still be celebrating Christmas a week into the New Year, when everyone else has returned to their everyday lives.
If you have a question that you would like to have featured in our Friday "Reader Questions" series, send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.