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Let’s Get Something Straight About Christmas Trees

Every December 26 I see it. And, I’m pretty sure you do, too.

Friends and neighbors put their Christmas trees out for recycling. How dare they, right? Don’t they know that the Christmas season lasts twelve full days? Don’t they know they should leave their trees up until at least Epiphany?

Oh gracious, y’all.

Let me just state this up front: the decor of your house does not dictate the state of your heart.

Should I say that a little louder for the people in the back?

I grew up Protestant in a whole host of churches. Every Christmas season, the decorations came out right after we cleaned up from Thanksgiving dinner and then promptly were put back up after we hit all the sales on December 26. Fast forward a decade or so, enter marriage, confirmation into the Catholic church and the addition of many babies and our timeline looked different. We still put up the decorations after Thanksgiving but were a wee bit slower in putting it away, trying our hardest to make it to Epiphany.

Then, those babies began to grow older. They started taking high school final exams and studying for the ACT. We found ourselves at basketball tournaments for more than one kid, enjoying band concerts and attending client and neighbor holiday parties. The schedule, even though we’ve worked very hard to be intentional, got a little crazier with six active children.

In order to fully embrace the beauty of Advent, we took advantage of the “down time” at Thanksgiving to do our Christmas preparations because it’s what that season of life dictated for our family. On the other end, we take advantage of the time during the holiday break to get the house in order so we can start the new year without scrambling.

And I make zero apologies for that. 

“Living liturgically” can be a beautiful and enriching thing for a family when it adds to a blossoming faith life. Waiting a little longer to dive into Christmas, paring down during Lent, choosing feast days of saints to celebrate with treats and crafts – it’s all gorgeous and awesome and inspiring.

Here’s the newsflash, though. It looks different for every family. As a mom of six, I cannot look at a newly married couple and be all Judge Judy with my liturgical calendar in hand. That’s not Christ, y’all. It’s not. We don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s home. Maybe this is their first (or their tenth) Christmas without a child, a spouse or a dear friend. Maybe their marriage is on the brink of divorce. Perhaps they’re suffering from a debilitating illness. We don’t fully know the condition people’s hearts or the state of their home.

I can’t shame people on social media for not conforming to my timeline of celebration. Well, I can (and I have), but Jesus asks more of me.

Scripture tells us to know God, love God and serve God. There is no addendum on the end that says we must keep up our Christmas trees until Epiphany. Trust me, I’m a Protestant, I know my Bible verses (even the Catholic ones).

Don’t you see? The details of how we live the faith in our homes is dictated by our season of life. Someday, my house may be decorated for Christmas until early February. That’s a season I’m not in yet, so who knows?

Instead of shaming people into what we think they should be doing, how about we find our joy in what we’re doing? Let’s focus on the joy of this season. The promise that a newborn baby made to all peoples of the Earth. He didn’t come with a liturgical checklist. He came with a heart bursting with love.

Perhaps we should, too.

18 Comments

  1. Courtney on December 27, 2018 at 8:55 am

    My mama is VERY superstitious for a faithful woman, so I was raised that the tree did not come down until after the first of the year because it was bad luck. We also could not wash or fold clothes or sweep or do any cleaning on New Years but that’s another story.

    I have always tried to leave it up until the 6th of January. And we have a fake tree! So we can. But this year was a struggle for me and my husband has a new self employed gig and I was ready to be back to normal before Christmas was even here. Apparently toddlers will do that to you. So we will see 🙂

    On the note of seasons of life….my grandfather had a stroke on Christmas Day in ‘91. He was gone by New Years. I wasn’t born yet but I was told that year the tree stayed up well into March. You never know what people are dealing with or how they are dealing with it.

    • Kathryn on December 27, 2018 at 9:24 am

      Amen sister!

  2. Joy on December 27, 2018 at 9:28 am

    Amen Sister!!! Let’s lift each other up! Merry Christmas to you and your family! Thank you for your inspirational words!

  3. Erin Carlson on December 27, 2018 at 10:00 am

    Yes! Yes, yes, yes. As an older mom of a 2 and 4 year old, I rejoiced at your Instagram yesterday and promptly took our tree down guilt free. I could list a million reasons why that made sense for us, but to your point they don’t matter, I don’t need an “excuse”. Back to celebrating with my babies who now have plenty of room for their indoor soccer set up. Merry Christmas to you!

  4. Lisa Briggs on December 27, 2018 at 10:05 am

    And ALL God’s people said AMEN!! Our tree didn’t get decorated this year except with lights & 4 new ornaments. The house is done but, gracious Tyler getting married out of state in early December has taken the extra pep out of me for weeks! Put that in your notes for future reference 😊 Give Scott and the kids Big Hugs from us❤️

  5. Claire on December 27, 2018 at 10:13 am

    My issue with the trees on the curb December 26th isn’t so much a concern about the liturgical calendar. I absolutely agree that people have to do things when their schedules allow. This year we got our tree on November 30th, the earliest we’ve ever gotten it (we trimmed it on December 1st). I wasn’t thrilled about it, but my husband had that day off, and his next Friday off would be the 14th, which is later than we would prefer to get it. (He works on Sundays, so the weeks when he works Fridays we only have one day when we’re all off, Saturday, and cutting down the tree would make for a very short weekend). Once school starts up again, it’s too hard to put away all the Christmas stuff, so we typically take it down either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, and this year it will come down January 2nd. If I could trust the tree to still be in good shape by MLK weekend, I would consider leaving it up till then, but that’s a gamble I’m not going to take.

    Anyway, my issue is that I just wish more people, if their schedules allow it, would resist the commercialism of Christmas that seems to get worse every year. It drives me crazy that the radio stations start the Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and then switch to regular music on December 26th. I hate it that Thanksgiving often takes a backseat to Black Friday shopping (which actually begins on Thanksgiving Day). I feel like sometimes Thanksgiving becomes a “junior Christmas”, something to rush through and then put up the Christmas decorations as soon as the turkey is gone, so we can get to the real holiday (the one with presents).

    This year we haven’t seen any trees on the curb yet, today or yesterday. If we did, I would certainly give people the benefit of the doubt that they have a valid reason for it (perhaps the tree was dropping too many needles to be safe, perhaps they’re about to travel out of town, etc). But again, I sure would love it if the Christmas music on the radio, among other things, continued for a few more days.

  6. Sonia on December 27, 2018 at 10:59 am

    We typically buy our Christmas tree the first weekend of December. This year we had so much going on that it didn’t happen. Our oldest daughter was away at college and wasn’t flying in until December 13. Originally I had wanted the house to be in perfect cozy Christmas mode for when she comes home. I had to let my expectations go when other things got in the way. It actually worked out for the better! We got to go as a family and pick out our tree just like we had always done. I also thought that I could actually keep the tree up until the epiphany because we had gotten the tree WAY later than we usually do. Things have a funny way about working out. I hope you are gentle on yourself with all the negative comments. People shouldn’t judge other people. Everyone’s circumstances are different. And that’s not what Jesus would do.

    • Claire on December 27, 2018 at 11:15 am

      Thankfully so far there haven’t been any negative comments on this thread.

      • Kathryn on December 27, 2018 at 2:04 pm

        Then spare yourself the walk over on Twitter. Lawd. It’s crazy over there!!

        • Claire on December 27, 2018 at 2:07 pm

          Oh that’s a shame. Certainly not in keeping with the season. I don’t know why people can’t discuss things kindly.

  7. Geri Conley on December 27, 2018 at 11:02 am

    Every year I share with people (non judgmentally) the beauty of the season of Advent and the season of Christmas. Our tree doesn’t go up until after the last Sunday of Advent and doesn’t come down until after epiphany. Look at it this way, I also have six kids so some day there will be 12 households that will leave their tree up during the Christmas season because that is the tradition they learned. Blessings to you and yours.

  8. Bridget on December 27, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Glad for your post abs sentiment.

    It makes me sad to see “Catholic Instagram”…or twitter…sniping at each other over things like this (or guitars at Mass, etc). WE’RE ALL ON THE SAME TEAM. And *cough* we have some bigger fish to fry (so to speak) in the Church right now.

    • Kathryn on December 27, 2018 at 2:03 pm

      Let’s just go ahead and put this on a billboard, shall we??

  9. Maureen on December 27, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    I could not love this more!

  10. Whitney H on December 28, 2018 at 8:35 am

    Thank you SO much for this!

    Jesus loves you. And me. And all of us… not our tree, or our ornaments or our decorations.

    I needed this reminder and won’t feel guilty about taking down our tree in the next few days. With an 8 yr old, 6 yr old, 4 yr old and a newborn, I think we will all feel more peace if some of this stuff is down and put away before school starts again.

    • Claire on December 28, 2018 at 10:50 am

      With four kids 8 and under (one a newborn), I think you deserve a medal just for getting the tree up in the first place!

  11. Laura on December 28, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Kindly & perfectly said! We all need to hear things like this. It is a revealing of what we know is in our hearts as good and true. God bless Kathryn for articulating our hearts.

  12. Nicole on January 10, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    I just took my tree down (it’s artificial). Protestant over here… but my grandmother always waited until 12th night (Epiphany) to take her tree down, so my mom did too, and then that’s what I do. There have been years where it’s been taken down on New Year’s day in my house, and up even later. I let others decide what works best for them for their Advent and Christmas celebrations.

    What makes me the most sad, though, is seeing those discarded trees at the curb. I just get sad that the tree is there (the environmentalist in me), but it doesn’t reflect on the people who did the discard. A fresh cut tree is a beautiful thing (we avoid due to allergy issues). I also am sad at the closing of the Advent season. I love it so much.

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