Episco-Fact #75
January 4, 2018

Is there a traditional time when the decorations from Christmas are supposed to be removed?

Yes, there is a time for Christmas decorations to be removed, but just like Christmas music being piped into to stores beginning the day after Halloween, not many are aware or follow the tradition, though churches seem to be pretty cognizant of it.

Until the early sometime in the late 1830's through the 1840's, Christmas as a holiday was much tamer and quieter than today. Even Christmas decorations were tempered, especially in the United States, a holder over from the era when some places, like Massachusetts still outlawed the feast. Oh, those Puritans and their lack of a robust theology of happiness.

As mentioned in earlier posts, the dynamic around Christmas changed with the publication of A Visit from St. Nick ('Twas the night before Christmas) in the United States in 1837, and the publication of A Christmas Carol in England in 1840. After these two publications, public and commercial displays of Christmas became much more common.

In the "catholic churches" (i.e. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans) in the United States, church decorating took place on, or about, Christmas Eve. Of course, home and business decorations usually coincided with other customs, like the country or origin background of the family involved, or whether or not decorations increased sales for the businesses. Hence, Christmas Carols in October.

Those same Catholic Churches mentioned above tended to observe the season when it came time to remove the decorations. That meant that after services on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany (Magi, or Three Kings), the time for putting away the wreaths, greens, and Crèche's had come. In addition, the liturgical color changes at this point, from white to green, although that change is not full affected until after the First Sunday after the Epiphany which is also the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, whose liturgical color is white.

One of the quirks of all of this tradition is what happens if the church or the family miss the Feast Day. Well, there was a fallback position among the Churches, that was February 2, The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, a major feast day by our own BCP calendar and that of the Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and the Orthodox. It is a great back-up date for doing Baptisms if one of the baptismal feast days is missed (i.e. The Great Easter Vigil, Pentecost, All Saints Day, or All Saints Sunday, and the Baptism of our Lord, today.).

If one misses the two major options above, it is considered inauspicious. As a rule, St. Francis does not use augurs, and we will de-green the church and sanctuary today after this service. So, there are customs, though many do not use the old standards.

Happy New Year.