05/01/2021Leave your Christmas decorations up until February, says English Heritage
To bring cheer to the winter months follow medieval tradition and keep your Christmas decorations up until 2 February
After an especially tough year, English Heritage is encouraging the public to do as their medieval ancestors did and leave up their festive adornments until Candlemas on 2 February. This opposes the theory that leaving decorations up beyond Twelfth Night is bad luck, which is a modern take on the tradition.
The charity will be following its own advice at several of its historic places, with decorations remaining in place throughout January at Audley End House in Essex, Framlingham Castle in Suffolk and Osborne on the Isle of Wight.
Falling exactly 40 days after Christmas, Candlemas (or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary) was observed as the official end of Christmas in medieval England. The date itself was a great feast day and is so-called because candles intended to be used in churches in the coming year would be blessed on that day. There were also candlelit processions in honour of the feast.
Evidence that decorations were kept up until the evening before Candlemas is well documented. To this day, Christmas cribs remain in place in many churches until Candlemas, and their removal is described in an early 17th-century poem:
Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve, Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.
Dr Michael Carter, English Heritage’s Senior Properties Historian, said:
'In the Middle Ages, houses would be decorated with greenery for the Christmas season on Christmas Eve day. The feast of Christmas started at around 4pm on Christmas Eve afternoon and continued until the Epiphany on 6 January.
But contrary to popular belief, the Christmas season actually continues right through to Candlemas on 2 February so there's no real reason why you should take your decorations down earlier.
The tradition that it is bad luck to keep decorations up after Twelfth Night and the Epiphany is a modern invention, although it may derive from the medieval notion that decorations left up after Candlemas eve would become possessed by goblins! I’m of the opinion that, after the year we’ve all had, we certainly deserve to keep the Christmas cheer going a little longer.'
Visit our Christmas page to learn more about the history of our festive traditions.