Just two days ago – December 28 – I saw a discarded Christmas tree out on the curb. Three days after Christmas, and already it’s over? The mall parking lot was jam-packed with shoppers crowding the stores for “after-Christmas” sales, and radio stations (even the classical ones!) abandoned holiday music by December 26th.
But Christmas isn’t over yet; in fact, today is only the sixth day of Christmas, which lasts for twelve days until Epiphany on January 6. (Yes, those are the “twelve days of Christmas” made famous in song. An interesting discussion of the possible Christian symbolism of the lyrics may be found at http://www.crivoice.org/cy12days.html.)
“Twelfth Night” is generally celebrated with revelry on the evening of January 5th, at which time Christmas decorations are removed, wassail is drunk, and a “Lord of Misrule” commands the feast and advocates reversal of roles for men and women, nobles and commoners, and the like. Shakespeare’s wonderful play Twelfth Night was written as an entertainment for that occasion; the Bard’s inclusion of reversed or backwards roles (a woman pretending to be a man, a commoner hoping to wed a noblewoman) is in recognition of this Twelfth Night custom.
In some cultures, especially those of our Hispanic neighbors, Epiphany (called “Three Kings’ Day” in honor of the Magi) is the day set aside for gift-giving and family celebrations. And for Orthodox Christians, Christmas is still several days away; they celebrate Christ’s birth on January 7, and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.
So, with so many reasons and occasions to continue our celebrations, why is there such a rush to end Christmas so early? Perhaps the people who live in the house where I saw the discarded Christmas tree are among those who put their Christmas decorations up on the day after Thanksgiving, and after six weeks, they’re ready to move on. But I really think that the rush has its origin in our retail culture; increasingly, our observances of holidays (holy days) and days of historical or cultural significance (Fourth of July, Hallowe’en, etc.) are driven by retailers and marketers. And that’s why Valentine’s Day merchandise (as if we need it) is already in the stores. (There’s no more money to be made on Christmas; what’s the next holiday we can exploit?)
At our house, we wait until mid-December, usually around the 14th, before we get a tree, decorate indoors and out, or even bake Christmas cookies. (We didn’t even finish our Thanksgiving turkey until well into the first week of December!) We then leave the indoor Christmas decorations up until Epiphany, and leave the evergreen wreath on the front door until the end of January.
At South Church, where I sing in the Chancel Choir, we’ll sing Christmas and Epiphany music throughout January. This Sunday, January 3 (Epiphany observed), we’ll sing “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” (J.S. Bach’s harmonization, hurrah!), “The First Nowell,” “We Three Kings,” “As with Gladness Men of Old,” and other music of the season.