Catholics! Keep Your Trees Up!

New Year’s Day promises two certainties: college football bowl games and Christmas trees on the curb. To Catholics, of course, January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It’s a Holy Day of Obligation, and the final day of the Octave of Christmas.

The Church, however, is so generous with joy. She does not end our celebration of the Incarnation with the conclusion of the Octave of Christmas. She extends it to Epiphany. Twelfth Night, as our English-speaking brethren call it, is an event Catholics in America should celebrate with more enthusiasm (think: roaring bonfires, grilled meat, lots of singing, red wine, brown ale) and might very well do if it were observed here on the Liturgical Calendar on January 6 as it is England, Australia, and Canada, to say nothing of Vatican City.

But the celebrating doesn’t stop there! After Epiphany, the revelry continues until the Baptism of the Lord, the first Sunday after January 6 (usually). This year, Catholics may very well wish to keep their decorations up through January 11. And if you want to be really traditional, you can celebrate what the faithful called “Christmastide” before the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council. In the old rite, or what we today call the Extraordinary Form, Christmastide lasted for 40 days to correspond with the 40 days of Lent, and the 40 days from Easter to Ascension Thursday.

A 40-day party? Gloria in Excelsis! (And people say Trad Cats are a dour bunch.)

Christmastide ended on February 2, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also called Candlemas Day. On this day, the faithful take candles that they will use throughout the year in their homes to Mass to have them blessed.

Here is how the brilliant Benedictine Abbot Dom Prosper Guéranger helps us understand the totality of the mystery of Christmastide:

We apply the name of Christmas to the 40 days, which begin with the Nativity of Our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, February 2. It is a period, which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view the whole 40 days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seem able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy with which She received the glad tidings from the Angels (Luke 2:10) on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing for 4000 years. The custom of celebrating the Solemnity of Our Savior’s Nativity by a Feast of 40 days’ duration is founded on the Holy Gospel itself; for it tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, after spending 40 days in the contemplation of the Divine Fruit of Her glorious Maternity, went to the Temple, there to fulfill, in most perfect humility, the ceremonies which the Law demanded of the daughters of Israel when they became mothers. The Feast of Mary’s Purification is, therefore, part of that of Jesus’ Birth; and the custom of keeping this holy and glorious period of 40 days as one continued Festival has every appearance of being a very ancient one, at least in the Roman Church.

The feast in the new rite is called the Presentation of the Lord—same joyful event, different emphasis, but if you really want to be a “sign of contradiction” (get it?) do as they did in ages past! Keep your tree and your decorations up until Candlemas!

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Catholic Answers.
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  • JamesIgnatius

    Maintaining a tree (even one erected on Christmas Eve) until Candlemas could be a bit of a fire hazard – I would be happy if Catholics kept it the tree up until Epiphany. Too many secular catholics tossing it out on December 26th, so sad.

  • jmc

    The best way to prevent fires with that tree drying out is simply not to turn on the tree lights. Unplug them altogether to prevent anyone from forgetting and turning them on. In fact, the tree is no less festive if you eliminate the lights altogether, as we do in our home, simply because it jacks up our electric bill too high. (When you’re on.a fixed income, every penny counts.) Just make sure you keep it well watered to minimize the needles on the floor. 🙂

  • jmc

    I pray the Little Office of the BVM according to the traditional calendar, so some of the prayers change on Septuagesima. What do you do when that occurs before Candlemas? Do you stay with the Christmastide prayers? I’ve never been able to get an answer to that one; everyone I’ve ever asked insists that isn’t possible.

  • pnyikos

    As far as I can tell, the only way to keep a cut Christmas tree well watered for that long is to cut a slice off the bottom every week or so, the way we clip the ends of the stems of cut flowers periodically. Unfortunately, the only way I could do that with the tree stands we have is to take the decorations down and then put them up again.

    If I really wanted a Christmas tree to last 40 days, I would buy a potted tree with the roots intact.

  • Bo

    Mist the tree daily if possible. I trim my outdoor evergreens and refresh the indoor decorations with these clippings. January is a hard month to get through and keeping Christmas going as long as possible sure helps. How about Christmas greetings?

  • tanyahe

    My tree is up. I get into conversations with Christians and explain to them about Christmas actually starting on Christmas day, and the celebration just begins there, keeping the tree up, etc.. I think a lot of them are shocked. The feast goes on. Praise be to God.