Traditional Christmas Day photographs show a family seated around a Christmas tree decorated with heirloom ornaments and accented with garlands of bright, multi-colored lights.
A photograph taken the next day, however, may show the children in the yard with their new toys and the once festive tree now thrown to the side of the road, and the ornaments and lights put away for another year.
Some people may keep their tree until the New Year before throwing it aside, but according to age-old traditions, the Christmas tree is supposed to stay until the feast of Epiphany, which marks the visit of the Magi, or of the three kings. , to the child Jesus. Feast day is the traditional end of the holiday season; the “12th day of Christmas” is mentioned in the well-known Christmas carol.
“The bottom line is the idea that the Christmas season itself spans the 12 days up to Epiphany,” said Reverend Rusty Vincent, pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church. “So you would keep your Christmas tree, your decorations; you are celebrating the Christmas season and not just Christmas Days. The 12 Days of Christmas begin on Christmas Day.
According to an article on the London Daily Telegraph website, most people think it’s bad luck to remove Christmas decorations before Epiphany. In ancient times, the article said, people believed that tree spirits lived in holly and ivy.
After the season they would be released outside, but if released before the end of Christmas it could cause harvesting problems.
According to the article, Christians in the West began celebrating Epiphany in the 4th century and into the 19th century, and it was more important than Christmas Day. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the article continues, the three Magi – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – followed the star of Bethlehem through the desert to meet the child Jesus, offering gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.
The gifts were symbolic of the significance of Jesus’ birth, with the gold representing his royal position; incense its divine birth; and myrrh its mortality.
“The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from the Greek and means ‘manifestation’. It celebrates ‘the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ,’” according to the article. “The six Sundays following Epiphany are known as the time of manifestation; the last Sunday of Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday.
Reverend Elisabeth Malphurs, rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Bovina, said the 12 days of Christmas end on Jan. 5, the eve of Epiphany.
“The Jewish way of marking time is that days begin at sunset, so we count a day as beginning at sunset,” she said. “Just like the Jewish people, the early Christians also marked the day, not as we think with sunrise, but beginning at sunset. We believe that Christmas begins at sunset on Christmas Eve.
Epiphany, says Malphurs, is a season of light for Episcopalians, and is marked by the tradition of burning greens; take the greens used to decorate for the season and burn them to mark the illumination of Christ’s coming into the world.
Reverend Sam Godfrey, rector of Christ’s Episcopal Church, said the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church indicates that in Herefordshire in England there was a tradition of lighting 12 bonfires depicting the 12 apostles to obtain a blessing on the fruits of the earth. . He said similar practices took place in other regions and included a decorated cake served on the 12th evening with a bean or coin baked inside. Whoever found the treasure became the king or queen of the festivities.
The tradition is also the start of the Mardi Gras season, which begins on the 12th night and ends on Ash Wednesday.
“Burning the greens,” Godfrey said, “is our way of sharing the light of Christ.”
And while Christians observe Epiphany as the time when the Magi came to worship the infant Jesus, Malphurs said: “The greatest theological message for us is that this is the time when Jesus Christ becomes known to a wider circle of people; that the light of Christ comes into the whole world. So to symbolize that with light is a very good image, and a good bonfire is a better image.