Why you should leave up your Christmas decorations until February

To bring cheer to the winter months, follow medieval tradition and keep your Christmas decorations up until 2 February

Image: Christmas tree at Kenilworth Castle

This year, why not do as our medieval ancestors did and leave up your festive adornments until Candlemas on 2 February?

The theory that it's bad luck to leave decorations up beyond Twelfth Night (around 6 January) is a modern take on the tradition, but doing so used to be normal practice in the medieval period.

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.

Image: Christmas wreath at Kenilworth

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.

Image: Decorating a Christmas tree at Audley End House and Gardens

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.


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