05/01/2021Leave your Christmas decorations up until February, says English Heritage
- Medieval tradition of keeping up decorations until 2 February brings cheer to winter months
- Notion of "bad luck" in January a modern invention
Keep the halls decked with boughs of holly and leave up your Christmas decorations until February, English Heritage appealed today (5 January). After an especially tough year and to bring some cheer into the coming dark winter months, the charity is encouraging the public to do as their medieval ancestors did and leave up their festive adornments until Candlemas on 2 February.
Falling exactly 40 days after Christmas, Candlemas (to give it its full name, 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 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 in fact, Christmas cribs remain in place in many churches until Candlemas) and their removal at this time 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."
English Heritage is encouraging the public to keep their decorations up until 2 February 2021 and asking people to share photos via the charity’s social media channels.
A selection of English Heritage sites remain open for local communities to enjoy. These sites have large outdoor spaces, and can be opened in a way that protects the health of all our visitors, staff and volunteers. Tickets must be booked in advance and for more information, visit the English Heritage website: www.english-heritage.org.uk.