According to tradition, there's a specific day to bring your evergreen to the curb—and it originates from the 12 days of Christmas.

Whether we add lights to our home's exterior or stockings to the mantels inside, putting up our favorite Christmas decorations during the holiday season is a ritual we look forward to each year. Beyond décor, one of the most popular motifs of the holiday is the Christmas tree. And though we know when and how to dress it up, understanding when to take it down after the holiday passes is less straightforward.

Learning about your tannenbaum's history—including the traditions surrounding removing it from your home—will help you decide when it's time to take your evergreen out to the curb.

packing up christmas ornaments
Credit: Circle Creative Studio / Getty Images

The History of the Christmas Tree

Christmas trees have a storied history, but it took them a while to become the decorated seasonal motifs we know and love today.

Roman Festival of Kalends

The origins of the Christmas tree dates back to the old Roman festival of Kalends, which symbolized the new year. "Many of our Christmas traditions, including holiday parties, gift-giving, and charity to the poor, have deep origins in this festival, which also included decorating houses with greenery," says Maria Kennedy, PhD, the co-director of the New Jersey Folk Festival and assistant teaching professor at Rutgers University.

The Reformation

The evergreen Christmas tree we recognize today emerged in German-speaking areas of Europe around the time of the Reformation. Legend attributes the first Christmas tree to Martin Luther—a theologian in the 16th century.

According to Clement Miles' book Christmas Customs and Traditions: Their History and Significance, Martin Luther erected the first Christmas tree after spending the holiday's eve under a sky full of stars. "He set up for his children a tree with countless candles, an image of the starry heaven," Miles wrote.

The tie between Martin Luther and the Christmas tree is based on legendary tales, but, decorated trees have appeared in German culture from the 1600s to the present day.

The Reign of Queen Victoria

Christmas trees became notable in England and spread to the United States during the reign of Queen Victoria. "Her husband, Prince Albert, brought the custom with him from his home in Germany in the 1840s," Kennedy says. "In England, there were already similar customs of adorning the home with greenery and of venerating miraculous trees."

Another common belief? During this time period, many thought that fruit trees would bloom on Christmas Eve. "According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea, the man who provided the tomb in which to bury Jesus, traveled to Britain with the Holy Grail and struck his walking staff into the ground at Glastonbury," Kennedy says. "From it grew the Glastonbury thorn, a tree which bloomed at Christmas."

When Tradition Says to Take Down Your Christmas Tree

Not sure when to take your Christmas tree down each year? One of the most popular dates for removal is January 5, which is based on tradition. "In my own home growing up, the proper day to take down the Christmas tree was after Epiphany, the feast of the Magi on the twelfth day of Christmas," Kennedy says.

Epiphany is a Christian holiday that celebrates three kings, who traveled East, following a star to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. The twelve days of Christmas mark the time from Christmas to Epiphany and were first recognized as a special feast time in 567 by the Council of Tours. This was a time of revelry, miracles, and magical events.

The twelfth night of Christmas is still a celebrated holiday in present day in many Christian cultures worldwide. "In England, the Twelfth Night was the night for Wassail, when people would go and frighten the bad spirits out of the orchard, light bonfires in fields, sing songs for a good harvest in the coming year, and bring cakes to the oxen in the barn," Kennedy says.

The end of the twelve days marked the end of Christmas. "This is when decorations were taken down, the feasting came to an end, and work resumed," Kennedy says. This day is still considered the designated time to remove our beloved ornaments and take down the tree, signaling the end of yet another fabulous holiday season.


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