Twelfth Night and Time For Christmas Decorations to Come Down – Or Is it (Twelfth Night, That Is?)
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.
Photo Twelve Drummers Drumming by Spinneretta, Flickr
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.