A Proposal for a Longer Christmas Season…In the OTHER Direction

In addition to the oft-bemoaned retail practice of filling shelves with Christmas goods as soon as Halloween is over, I have noticed that regular folk are putting their Christmas decorations up earlier and earlier—before Thanksgiving in some cases. And this bothers me. Not only because it overshadows our celebration of Thanksgiving, which is such a lovely holiday in part because it is so not commercial, requiring no gifts or cards or elaborate decoration. But also because by the time the Big Day arrives on December 25, we’re all holidayed out. Our jaded and weary selves have stopped oohing and aahing at the most beautiful or over-the-top light displays in town. We’re bloated from weeks of noshing on cookies and snack mix. The dried-up needles from our weeks-old Christmas trees and wreaths are tracked throughout the house. Once the actual day of celebration arrives and departs, we’re overeager to be done with Christmas and its too-muchness.

There are few things I find more disheartening than the sight of a naked Christmas tree on someone’s curb on December 26. Or turning on the radio on December 26 to the station that has been blaring Christmas carols nonstop since the day after Thanksgiving, only to find Jason Mraz crooning a decidedly non-holiday tune.

The abrupt end to Christmas cheer come December 26 is not only jarring, but is also utterly wrong for those who consider Christmas to be a fundamentally religious holiday. For Christians, December 25 is the first day of Christmas, not the one and only. And while the shortest and darkest day of the year happens a few days before Christmas on December 21, there’s still an awful lot of cold and dark ahead for us once Christmas passes—cold and dark for which twinkling outdoor lights, evergreen-scented homes, and low-key days filled with crackling fires, family time, and holiday music can be effective antidotes.

I’d like to propose that, instead of breaking out the Christmas decorations and music as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers are tucked into their tupperware (if not before), we hold off on Yuletide trappings until a week or so before Christmas …and then continue celebrating Christmas at least until January 1, if not through the twelfth day of Christmas on January 6. Leave the tree up. Leave the lights up. Keep reading Christmas stories to the kids at bedtime. Keep the Christmas playlists in rotation. Attend church the Sunday after Christmas so we can belt out a few more favorite carols. (Yet another reason I am grateful to be an Episcopalian: We strictly follow the liturgical calendar, not the secular calendar. During Advent, we sing Advent hymns and light Advent candles. Christmas decorations don’t go up until Christmas Eve, and Christmas carols are sung for the full twelve days…and not before.) As much as possible given work and other demands, maintain the slower, family- and home-focused holiday pace that produces such an appealing hush on Christmas Day. While we have little control over how long that hush lasts in the wider world, we can nurture it in our own homes and lives.

We can’t tell the local radio station how to do their holiday programming. But we can decide when we put up and take down our lights and tree. We can choose when we send our Christmas cards. (See? This proposal has practical benefits too! If you don’t send out your cards until after Christmas Day, you’re not hopelessly behind…you’re celebrating Christmas on an appropriate timetable!) We can continue greeting friends and strangers with the extra dose of cheer and warmth that comes with the holiday season. Rather than getting up on December 26 to shop the sales or de-decorate the tree, we can choose to spend another quiet day at home, eating leftovers, doing a big jigsaw puzzle, asking our kids if we can join them in playing with their new toys, or reading in front of the fire.

So who’s with me? Instead of complaining about how much earlier Christmas prep happens every year, who wants to try putting off their own preparations until Christmas Day is in sight, and then extending the holiday, as much as it is in our power to do so, beyond midnight on December 25?

We may not be able to change our culture’s approach to Christmas. But we can save a few Christmas trees from being kicked to the curb before their time.


A Busy Advent Doesn’t Make You a Bad Christian
Why Even the Smallest Good Work is Worth Doing
Busy Hands, Quiet Heart: Thoughts On Advent
Why “What Would Jesus Do?” Isn’t Exactly the Right Question
About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Mary

    Ellen, Joshua is always saying this exact same thing. We wait until at least Advent 1 to put up a Christmas tree. Last year, we decorated it progressively over the weeks of Advent, so that our tree and home weren’t fully decked out for Christmas until Christmas Eve.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      I’ve been thinking of doing progressive decorating this year, partly for practical reasons, but also for the reasons I outline here. Maybe put up the outdoor lights one weekend, then some of the tabletop and mantel decorations the next, then the tree the next. It would certainly be less exhausting that way, as well as postponing the full Christmas experience until the 25th is in sight.

  • http://www.KennethEHines.com Kenneth E. Hines

    Thank you! What a blessing to read your encouragement for us all to recover a sane and historically accurate way of celebrating the Nativity of our Lord. As you are grateful for your Episcopal tradition so I am thankful for my Eastern Orthodox experience. The ancient liturgical practices keep us moored to the personal and communal reality of God’s redemption – in no small part because they were developed before all this commercialism. I am especially thankful for the Orthodox Tradition of the nativity fast 40 days before Christmas (just as we prepare for the Resurrection during Lent). It isn’t easy to fast when everyone else is partying but it gives a profound joy in the feast. The spiritual benefits are immense. I wish for all Christians to recover the treasures of our forefathers and mothers in the Holy Tradition of the Church not only for the joy of the season but even for the sake of our salvation! “Make ready, O Bethlehem, Eden hath been opened unto all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the Tree of life hath blossomed in the cave from the Virgin. For her womb proved to be a spiritual paradise wherefrom there came the Divine Plant, whereof eating we shall live and not die like Adam. Christ is born to raise the image that fell of old.” -Troparion of the Forefeast of the Nativity

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    When it comes to spotting Xmas trees in the gutter, one of our local columnists has readers report in the earliest and latest sitings. Earliest trees kicked to the curb are reported before 12/25. Latest sometimes come in the blazing 100+ degree summers we have here. I think one year the last tree spotted curbside was in August.

  • DaveP

    > … we hold off on Yuletide trappings until a week or so before Christmas …and then continue celebrating Christmas at least until January 1, if not through the twelfth day of Christmas on January 6.

    Actually, that’s what we always did when my kids were young. We were pretty broke, so our Christmas budget was usually from $30 to $100. We’d wait until the week before Christmas to buy one of the scraggly leftover trees (the “Charlie Brown” trees we called them), which was about $10 of the budget. Presents for all 4 kids ranged from a total of $10 up to $50. One of the most successful presents was a cageful of mice (homemade cage, snakefood mice, shavings, mouse food). The kids loved them. They turned out to be the gift that kept on giving, since Santa didn’t think to separate the genders. :) The rest of the Christmas budget went to supplies for homemade gifts for friends and relatives.

    We’d then keep the tree and decorations up until about a week after the kids went back to school. To twelfth night, and beyond!

    > Leave the lights up.

    I never take them down. :)

    • Kristen inDallas

      I decorate late out of thrift as well. Ah… if only the rest of the world would just botch it entirely and throw out their trees immediately after the presents are open. Then I could go out the morning of the 25 and wouldn’t have to BUY the tree at all. :)

      • Al DelG

        Or you could just grab one from one of the unattended tree lots with leftovers …

  • Kate B.

    My Germanic side of the family didn’t even put up the tree until Christmas Eve, while my father’s side put it up around Advent 3 or Advent 4. I’m usually able to take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve off, too, so I love to be able to slow down and enjoy the time with the kids. It’s so sad to see many of our neighbors’ trees out while we’re still enjoying Christmas.

  • Rob

    I love your idea and agree with you! However, I am guilty of making Thanksgiving my official First Day of Christmas season lol. Still, I agree that the celebration should not end by 5pm on Christmas Day. There is so much more to celebrate, it’s sad to see it end so abruptly.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      I should come clean too and admit that I start listening to Christmas music BEFORE Thanksgiving. I have a dedicated Pandora station that plays the kind of Christmas music I really like.

  • srocha

    One word: ADVENT. Nice post.

  • Taffy


    I have always observed Christmas – liturgically. ( As another daughter of an Episcopal priest, I wonder why. ) In my neighborhood, I am the only one without wreaths on the garage and lights in the windows. If I turn to a radio station with cheap Christmas music, I switch stations. I also refuse to get caught up in the frenetic rush of shopping and would never go out to shop on Thanksgiving!

    Gradually, I will put up wreaths and do some decorating, as well as pull out my Christmas cds. Without sounding like a “goody goody”, my favorite Christmas things are Lessons and Carols, delivering holiday baskets to all my hospice patients, taking angel tree gifts to children whose parents are incarcerated, an annual Christmas concert and dinner with friends and being with my grandchildren.

    At this time in my life, I travel to where my kids live, so I do have the luxury of a simple Christmas, which suits me just fine!