christmas tree in trash
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So Here's When You Should Actually Take Down Your Christmas Tree

Unless you decide to turn it into a Valentine's Day tree, that is.

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree, How lovely are thy branches? If your answer is "Meh, I've seen better" it may be time to pack up the tinsel. When the holidays come to a conclusion and we start inching toward the New Year, the unavoidable question is always when you should take down Christmas decorations and trees. Ask some Christmas-lovers and they’ll say ‘Never! Keep those Christmas lights up year-round and spare yourself the seasonal trouble.” Others follow strict dates based on superstitions, religious holy days, and grand traditions.

And then there are those of use who follow a more gut instinct approach. Personally, I wait until the pine needle count on the floor exceeds those still on the trees to yank my evergreen down. Others turn their Christmas tree into a Valentine’s tree extending its life well into February (just trade your Santa ornaments for red and pink ribbons and bows and voila! A tree of love).

So when is the right time to store the garlands for another year? It’s an inexact science but we’ll throw open the history books to look at some old timey guidance that even if you choose not to follow your grandmother might. You can take it or leave it. In a year where social norms seem to have been thrown on the window, following holiday etiquette may be reassuring. For others, well, the emotional toll of saying goodbye to Christmas might just be too much, and ya know what? We get that, too.

When to take down the Christmas tree

As a person married to a historian, the rules of Twelfth Night are big in our home. Popular in English speaking countries, it’s considered the twelfth and final night of Christmas and is typically celebrated on January 5. It comes from the ecclesiastical calendar that marks December 25 as the first day of Christmas. Throughout the 12 days, followers historically break out the wassail, sing carols, and generally make merry before wrapping up the yuletide season. But after the 5, the fun is over and if you leave up your decor past that date, it’s considered bad luck.

Now, if you want to get even more religious on the whole holiday decor situation, you can follow the Epiphany rule. Epiphany, January 6, is the day many Christians recognize as when the wise men (a.k.a. magi) visited baby Jesus. Seen as when the Christ child became physically manifest to the Gentiles, it’s considered the best date to complete Christmas festivities and pack everything away.

But that's not the only old school tradition. For a more agnostic approach you could always bow to superstition. Many believe that to leave trees up past the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve is bad luck. The choice is yours.

When should you take Frosty down?Shutterstock

Outdoor decorations

Of course, for many of us, the tree is just one piece of the elaborate mistletoe-adorned decor puzzle. Consider the inflatable snowmen, projected light shows, and wreaths up wreaths upon wreaths that cover our homes this time of year. When do those need to get the boot?

Well, that depends on your neighborhood. Some neighborhood Home Owner’s Associations have strict requirements regarding holiday decor. Just this week a home owner in Charleston, South Carolina, got the Grinch treatment when his HOA told him to take down “his holiday display or face legal action” according to WSOCTV. But thanks to pushback from his neighbors, he’s allowed to keep them up “for the holiday season.” What that means exactly is likely up to legal interpretation so if you want to spare yourself a cease and desist, best check your HOA manual.

Indoor decorations

As for your interior design flourishes, the inside of your house is, last time I checked, your domain and up to your own rules. Say you want to keep your nativity displayed until May. Go for it. Who is going to stop you? The gingerbread house, on the other hand? Well, if it’s been up for more than 12 months, Gingerbread Houses, Inc., a gingerbread distributor, says it’s time to go. For all other gingerbread houses, I recommend the smell test. Or, toss it if you start to see mold creeping up next to your gum drop chimney.

Green garlands will, like trees, likely dry out faster inside with the heat on, so toss those to avoid fire hazards. The tinsel you can store in a bin as soon as you’re ready to.

So follow the old timey traditions or follow your heart. Just remember to store your beloved holiday items carefully so they’ll look just as grand next season when the love-light gleams again.