Twelfth Night and Time For Christmas Decorations to Come Down – Or Is it (Twelfth Night, That Is?)

Profile image for Caroline_W

By Caroline_W | Tuesday, January 05, 2010, 07:19

Although most people agree that Christmas decorations should be taken down by Twelfth Night or ill luck will befall the home, there seems to be a great deal of confusion over exactly when Twelfth Night is.

The Oxford English Dictionary says it falls on 6 January – although it then goes on to say that ‘strictly’ it’s the evening of 5 January which was ‘formerly’ the twelfth and last day of Christmas.

The Church of England plumps down firmly on 5 January as the Twelfth Day of Christmas, and therefore the evening of the 5th as Twelfth Night.

This difference in dates is said to have arisen because centuries ago ‘days’ began at sunset and night-time was considered part of the following day. So if you start counting at sunset on 24 December, the twelfth night afterwards is 5 January. But when using today’s system and starting days at midnight that puts twelve nights on from the 25th as the evening of 6 January.

And just to confuse people even further, curiously some people who believe 6 January is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, also call the 5th Twelfth Night as it’s the eve of the 12th Day – similar to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Until Victorian times the confusion over the date of Twelfth Night wouldn’t have mattered. The 2 February was the day on which decorations came down as this is Candlemas Day, 40 days after the birth of Jesus and marking the end of the Christmas season. But in the 19th century Twelfth Night took over as the day to clear the house of decorations.

The association of tardy putting away bringing bad luck is said to originate way back when people brought greenery into their home to help protect the tree-spirits living in it against the harsh winter months.  If the spirits weren’t released back into the countryside in time for the fairer weather, it was believed they’d bring bad luck to the harvests.

For centuries greenery was the only sort of decoration to be had – holly, mistletoe, and ivy, etc – and removing them from the house in February often coincided with the start of fairer weather.  

But if you don’t take your decorations down in time there is still hope. You can ward off the bad luck by keeping them up for a certain time longer. Naturally, there is indecision over this time period too. Some people say they must be kept up for the whole year, whereas others only as long as Candlemas Day.

So where do Hedgeendpeople stand on the question of Twelfth Night?

Are you a 5th of January or a 6th of January taker-down of decorations – or do you ignore the tradition entirely?

In our house as twelve drummers drumming are usually conspicuous by their absence when the post arrives on both the 5th and the 6th I’m still confused over which is actually the Twelfth Day of Christmas and so we tend to err on the safe side and restore the house to normality on the 5th.

But while we’re on the subject of Christmas customs and bad luck, I hope you’ve all remembered to keep your Yule log blazing throughout the twelve days as it’s considered unlucky to light a fresh one.



  • Profile image for happytohelp

    I am  roman catholic and the chruch of england is right that the evening of the 5th of january is twelfth night and the following day is twelfth day which is for some people the feast of Epiphany or three kings day

    Twelfth night marked the night the three kings reached the christ child hence why there is 12 days of christmas the tradition is to leave decorations lit until the wise men have reached the christ child

    All catholic and anglian celebrations begin at sunset the day before the same goes for christmas eve at sunset begins christmas night  and easter is the same too

    By happytohelp at 18:44 on 06/01/10

  • Profile image for TGRWorzel

    Yes I agree, it is important to have Xmas lights in Hedge End, but they do need to be working reliably or the village centre starts to look run-down and neglected...

    By TGRWorzel at 17:46 on 05/01/10

  • Profile image for EdwinaKing

    Actually I disagree, I think it is just so nice to have lights up in village centres, and the number of times I drive through places without any, it makes me sad.  I think we're lucky the council or whoever is responsible take it seriously, although if as many are broken as you sazy, perhaps they should be replaced...

    By EdwinaKing at 16:02 on 05/01/10

  • Profile image for TGRWorzel

    Noticed last night that the panel of lights outside Barclays has failed. I presume they will all be switched-off or taken down imminently so no need to fix that now, but as there is also one panel in St Johns Road which has literally been not working for weeks can I say that whilst they looked nice (briefly) when they were all working, overall the Xmas lights in Hedge End were a disappointment this year...

    By TGRWorzel at 10:59 on 05/01/10

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