Posted by: Bystander PJ5 JAN 2012
Tradition says that by now we should have taken down our Christmas decorations. In most English-speaking countries it is considered unlucky to leave them up beyond Twelfth Night, which is seen as marking the end of the seasonal celebrations.
But when is Twelfth Night? There has long been confusion about whether it falls on 5 January or 6 January. The dilemma seems to derive from the fact that until medieval times Christmas Day was deemed to start at sunset on 24 December, hence the 5 January date for Twelfth Night. But if one counts from 25 December, then Twelfth Night falls on 6 January.
Whichever date you choose, the belief about incurring bad luck is a fairly recent one, since for a long time the festive period was considered to end on Candlemas — 2 February — rather than on Twelfth Night. In some cultures it was even thought unlucky to take down one’s decorations before Twelfth Night.
What has long amused me about our annual celebrations is that most of the traditions we associate with Christmas have no connection whatsoever with Christianity. And yet the church does nothing to deter them.
Yule logs, fir trees, ivy, mistletoe and holly wreaths can all be traced to pre-Christian beliefs.
Santa Claus and his elves, flying reindeer and Christmas stockings derive from garbled versions of European folklore.
More recent innovations such as greeting cards, crackers, fairy lights and poinsettias seem to exist mainly to help traders make more money out of Christmas.
As for turkey, cranberry sauce, sage and onion stuffing, sprouts, roast chestnuts, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies, brandy butter, chocolate yule logs, sherry and mulled wine — well, what can I say?
Nevertheless, I hope that all PJ readers enjoyed the seasonal festivities and will go on to have a happy and prosperous 2012.