"Big Four" Highlights


The Last Tree Standing

When do you put away the Christmas decorations?

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

Growing up in New York City, our family did not have a big Christmas tree. We celebrated the Nativity with appropriate prayers, Mass, splendor and gift-giving, but my parents were practical when it came to choosing a tree. Living on the fifth floor of a six-story walk-up apartment building, my dad would have put out his bad back lugging a large, live tree up the stairs, only to have half the pine needles fall off by the time it got past our front door. My mother explained that the only place for such a tree would have been in a corner of the living room, next to the steaming radiator, which would kill all the remaining needles. She was not going to vacuum brown needles stuck in the rug for the next few months, she insisted.

So we settled for a Charley Brown-size tree that rested atop the large black-and-white TV, next to the rabbit-eared antenna of the day. It must have been a real tree of some sort because I remember opening a little plug on the plastic base to add water from time to time. Wrapped gifts were placed under the TV, which stood on four legs in the living room. Yet I didn’t feel deprived; after all, every family I knew did the same thing in those days. And most years, our family spent Christmas upstate at my grandmother’s house, where there was a fresh tree cut from the woods and plenty of gifts for aunts, uncles, cousins and us.

We would return to the city and our little tree which we kept watering till the feast of the Presentation, February 2. When I was young, I thought my parents randomly chose that date so they could keep the tree up longer and make up for having such a skimpy one on the TV. I figured we were different because when we went back to school after the New Year, we’d see big, live trees piled on the sidewalks outside the richer apartment buildings, brought to the curb by doormen. It wasn’t until I knew something about the Church’s calendar, and the former importance of Candlemas (Presentation), that I realized that Church tradition once kept the Christmas spirit alive for 40 full days, nearly into Lent. There was no Ordinary Time back then.

Let me take this opportunity, as we approach the feast of the Presentation, to ask my Fathers for Good readers when they take down their Christmas trees. The world says the season is over after the last present is unwrapped or returned, but we Catholics have a richer tradition.

Do you wait until January 1 to remove the ornaments and dispose of the tree? That would mark the end of the Octave, or eight days, of Christmas. Do you keep the tree standing through the Twelve Days after Christmas, ending with the traditional date of the Epiphany (January 6)? Or do you wait for the following week, for the beginning of Ordinary Time? How many of you hold out for the full 40 days, and put away the decorations and the tree on February 2? That’s what my wife and I agreed to do this year. We have a 7-foot, pre-lit, realistic artificial tree decked with ornaments ranging from bright-colored Christmas balls to repurposed Christmas cards depicting the Nativity. On the feast of the Presentation, we will pack up the ornaments, dismantle the tree and stuff it carefully back in the box in the basement.

Whatever your practice, the key is to keep the joy and generosity of Christmas in your hearts the whole year round.

Merry Christmas!

(Please tell us in the Comment box below about your Christmas tradition.)