It is now the second day in the octave of the Epiphany, and our decorations are still up. I wonder when most Christians take down the decorations, if there is a mainstream practice in that regard. I have heard of a number of arguments. On one extreme are those who leave up Christmas decorations until Candlemas. The other extreme, I suppose, is to put everything away on St. Stephen's Day. The latter extreme just doesn't make much sense when one considers that the 26th is only the second day of Christmas. And, frankly, the former seems a bit too much to me. Surely by the end of January the neighbors are wondering, with some justification, if you're a little crazy. If I had to guess, I would say that most church going Christians end all vestiges of Christmas celebration in the home by Twelfth Night, which this year was this past Saturday.
My own thinking on the matter is just a bit different from all of the above. Consider that the season we enter right after the twelve days of Christmas is Epiphanytide, the season which celebrates how the Christ was revealed to the wise men who had come from the east to worship Him. This wise men figure as a prominent part of St. Matthew's Infancy Narrative. They make for practically a sine qua non in home nativity scenes. My argument is to keep Christmas decorations up through the Epiphany season, which, I hasten to add, I do not interpret to mean the weeks after Epiphany. Rather, I am referring to the feast of the Epiphany (6 Jan.) and its octave, culminating on 13 Jan.
At the cost of being thought an Easternizer, I am also struck by the thought that just as we are all finished with any thought of Christmas, many (though not all) of the churches in the Eastern Orthodox world are getting ready to celebrate precisely this mystery of the birth of our Lord. Christmas is celebrated on 7 January by those churches that use the Julian calendar. So in a certain less than fully defined sense I am celebrating the birth of Christ with the Christians of that tradition by keeping the Christmas and Ephipany seasons together in certain little ways at home, such as not bothering to put away the decorations a few more days.
I leave the reader with one final unrelated thought (well, it's distantly related-maybe kissing cousins). The very next day after the Epiphany octave is complete, ie., 14 Jan., is, at least according to the sanctoral cycle, historically the feast of St. Hilary, the great 4th century bishop of Poitiers. That day, I would argue, begins the unofficial season of Carnival, a time of year which ends with Fat Tuesday. I imagine that would be a great time to be down in New Orleans. And considering that I am part of a church (the Missouri Synod) which was born of a colony of immigrants in the 19th century who entered America via New Orleans, travelling up the waters of the Mississippi, perhaps it would only be right and Lutheran to one day make a pilgrimage to that fine city for Mardi Gras. Maybe next year in New Orleans.