It started on December 26th, as it always does.
There was good-natured controversy all over my Facebook, between friends of both the Eastern and Western Catholic stripe, about how long the Christmas tree should stay up. There were memes about it; I shared some myself. There were statuses and comments offering correction.
I find that, whenever there is good-natured controversy, there will inevitably be people taking the controversy very seriously. Some people are certain they’ve got the One Right Answer to this question, and some people are scared that they might not. This happens with the Christmas Tree controversy all the time. Once, for example, I heard an earnest homily where the priest said that he gets so sad when he sees Christmas trees left out for the garbage on the day after Christmas, because those people are missing out on the whole liturgical season. Apparently there’s a perceived imperative in some minds about this.
There’s a perceived imperative in some minds about how long you should wait to put the tree up, as well; there are those who react as though it’s sacrilege to put up the tree before Gaudete Sunday, there are those who think it’s wrong not to wait til Christmas Eve, and there are many who follow these traditions because they like them but couldn’t care less what other people do. You run into all kinds.
Let’s review, for anyone just joining us: the Advent Season starts four Sundays before Christmas if you’re Latin Catholic and on November Fifteenth if you’re Eastern Catholic (in which case you might call it the Nativity Fast or Saint Philip’s Fast instead of Advent). The second to last Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday if you’re Latin, and I don’t think there is such a thing if you’re Eastern.
Apparently some Eastern Catholics celebrate Christmas on the Julian calendar on January 6th along with many Orthodox Christians and I presume they have a different Nativity Fast too, but in my eparchy we celebrate on the 25th with the Latins, and I confess that I know nothing about the Julian calendar so I’m just going to ignore that right now.
The Christmas season begins sometime after sunset on December 24th and the Twelve Days of Christmas last from the 25th until January 5th. Epiphany, which is actually on January 6th but is often moved to the Sunday between January 2nd and January 8th for US Western Catholics, is also in the Christmas season but it’s not one of the twelve days. Christmas officially lasts until the Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord, which will be on the 8th this year, and some people are telling me it lasts a full forty days until Candlemas on February 2nd, but it definitely lasts til Baptism of the Lord. This all applies to the Gregorian calendar. If you’re on the Julian calendar, I have no idea how long Christmas lasts for you, but I hope you have a lovely and grace-filled season.
So, when should a good Catholic put up her Christmas tree? And when should we take it down?
Well, here’s the thing: Christmas trees aren’t Catholic. They’re a secular tradition with Pagan and/or Christian roots, depending on which history you’re reading. They’re fine for Catholics to use and I like them a whole lot, but they have nothing to do with the liturgical Advent or Christmas seasons. They’re just for fun.
So, you should put up and take down the Christmas tree whenever you find it fun to do so.
Some people wait to put up the Christmas tree until Gaudete Sunday or Christmas Eve, because they feel that putting it up too soon will muddle the different liturgical seasons, and that’s fine. But it’s not the right way. There isn’t a right way. Some people can’t help themselves and put up the Christmas tree at Thanksgiving, and that’s not the wrong way. Some of those people eat all the chocolate out of their advent calendar on Day One and go buy a new one the next day, as well. That’s probably not wise, but liturgically speaking it isn’t wrong either. Because Christmas trees and chocolate calendars aren’t liturgical. Neither are lawn inflatables and bad claymation films, for that matter. Do what works for you.
Some people leave the Christmas tree up til Candlemas because it helps them remember what liturgical season they’re in. Some mean to keep it up til Candlemas but don’t, because the stupid thing dies and sheds needles all over the carpet and becomes a fire hazard. Some people take the tree down on the 30th to make room for the New Year’s party for all of their friends. Some people take it down on the 26th because they think it’s depressing. Some people don’t want a Christmas tree at all. All of these are fine. Do what works for you.
Some people think they’re better, more pious Catholics than others because of the fact that they’ve got a dead evergreen in their living room dropping needles until February. Some people think they’re better than other people because their dead evergreen is real and other people use aluminum trees. Some people think they’ve only succeeded as human beings if their dead evergreens are aesthetically pleasing and look like they came out of a magazine. Some people hate Chirstmas trees but insist on displaying one so that nobody thinks they’re peculiar. These are not fine. They’re bad reasons to do things and you should stop. You’re a beloved child of God. Relax.
I hope that this clarifies things for all of my pals on the Gregorian calendar. Merry Christmas.
And as for you Julian folks, Happy Sunday.
(image via Pixabay)