What a difference a day makes. From a house beautifully decorated for Christmas on 31 December to a home stripped of all decorations, the Christmas tree taken to recycling. Some people even take down all their decorations on Boxing Day, while others leave it until as late the 6th January. And yet January is a time when most of us need a bit of colour and sparkle as much as – and probably more than – in December.
And guess what? According to English Heritage, it's perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, to leave your tree and decorations up until...1st February. No, it's not bad luck – the idea that leaving Christmas decorations past the Epiphany on 6th January is a modern concept. Traditionally, English homes stayed decorated up until Candlemas, which is on 2nd February.
Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was an important date in the Medieval religious calendar, and it culminated with a banquet and a candlelit procession on the 2nd February. This was also the date when candles for the year ahead would be brought to churches to be blessed, hence the title.
And while it has a long time since Candlemas was widely celebrated, it tells us something interesting about how people used to think about the winter holidays and the dark winter months that follow Christmas. Today, we think about January as a month of harsh self-discipline and radical lifestyle changes, believing that starting the year in an ascetic way will help us achieve more in the new year. Some of us give up booze, while others go on strict diets or adopt strenuous exercise regimens – all during a month when it's still dark until eight in the morning.
Could it be that we would be better off prolonging the coziness and festive feel of Christmas until the beginning of February, when it's at least a little warmer and brighter? Dr Michael Carter, English Heritage’s Senior Properties Historian, says: '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.'
So, if you are feeling reluctant to take down your decorations and tree – keep them on! Make this a winter of kindness and self-care rather than punishing resolutions; you may find that this works better than hitting the treadmill on New Year's Day.