Where Do You Stand on the Post-Christmas Debate?

By Sister Jean McGrath

The post-Christmas debate goes on:

. . . If your Christmas tree is up on the weekend after Thanksgiving, it is only appropriate that it comes down on the day after Christmas.

. . .Family tradition demands that the tree be up until at least January 6…we used to call that “Little Christmas”…

. . . Keeping the tree up wards off the post-Christmas blues when it is so cold and dark outside. If up to me, I think we should keep until Valentine’s Day.

Where do you stand on the debate?

I have always been on the keep it up for as long as you can side of the question. On January 6, the feast of the Epiphany (Little Christmas), I finally took down my Christmas tree. It was a bittersweet experience.


In the last few years I have created a mini-ritual for taking down the tree. While much is written about the traditions related to putting up the Christmas tree, I think it is equally important to celebrate taking down the tree. Whether you have a “live” tree from the local American Legion lot, a tree that you and your family cut down yourselves, or a pre-lit “looks almost real” tree from Home Depot, it is a memory holder that can prompt wonderful reflections on all that was and all that is to be. I offer the following:

The tree holds an eyewitness account of Christmas memories and new traditions created each year. If you have children, what could possibly top the vision of watching them discover all that Santa left for them after his late night visit? One quickly realizes that the time spent searching for the most desired toy of the year was well worth the effort. The new tradition of “family pajamas” creates a family portrait to be treasured for years to come when you wonder who ever thought of that idea.


The tree is the constant in the flurry of holiday celebrations and gatherings with family and friends where the circle of love between and among all present reminds us of the treasure each is in our life.

In the rush to put the tree up, we might lose sight of the memory so many of the ornaments hold. Construction paper snowflakes, popsicle stick stables, glitter sparkled angels crafted so carefully by pre-school artisans now home from college for Christmas. (“I cannot believe you saved that” as the now sophisticated sophomore scholar revels in the magic and memory of time that passes so quickly.)

Be very careful to wrap the tiny silver framed picture ornament with:”Baby’s First Christmas” a gift that announced the adoption of a grand-niece who at ten years of age continues to bring so much joy to her family as she grows each year.

A special box is here for the lovely Waterford crystal globe sent from cousins in Ireland so many years ago…Three generations have ensured it be part of family legacy and tradition.

I am careful to wrap the light strings with a prayer that they will last for another year. The old “bubble lights” are almost impossible to find now. I hold my breath each year for the aha moment of plugging everything in for the first time, hoping these vintage bulbs will light not only the tree but the faces of all who gather around the tree during the beautiful season of Christmas.

Today is a damp and cold January day. Most of us are back to work or school. Christmas aisles at Target have been replaced with Valentines and yes, even bathing suits for Spring break, but I am enjoying one of the best days of the New Year. The tree is in a big green bag, the ornaments are carefully boxed, and my heart is grateful for memories of another wonderful Christmas and the promise held in that tree bag and ornament box.


This Christmas like those in the past will light the way for a new year filled with hopes and dreams, worries and wonders, surprises and disappointments which will enrich the tree when it is put up again next December.

Happy New Year!

About the Author

After years as a Catholic School Principal, Sister Jean McGrath is looking forward to volunteer service now that she has retired. She loves a good book, a good conversation and a good bargain!

27 thoughts on “Where Do You Stand on the Post-Christmas Debate?

    • My deepest sympathies on the loss of your sister, Veronica. It’s hard to lose someone no matter the season, but it does seem especially difficult at the holidays. I hope the new year brings you time to grieve and find peace.


  1. Kathy says:

    What a great article! I so enjoy decorating our home for Christmas. 47 years of accumulating and honoring ornaments, several older than I am, from my parents tree. I have to admit, putting away overwhelms me. I wrote myself a note and tucked it away in our nativity set: offer each guest to our home on Christmas Eve the opportunity to choose one decoration or ornament to take and honor in their home . This way, I’ll feel safer knowing the items are celebrated in coming years, just as they have been in ours.
    Many blessings from a stark space, so empty yet so full at the same time.
    Enjoy your retirement…write more of these. Much appreciated.


  2. betsy meagher,csj says:

    Wonderful memories that plug into my own Jean. Yes, our live tree was up past January 6! Our family bubble lights are long gone but not the image of them in my childhood mind. Thanks for this beautiful article on ‘after Christmas”!


  3. Elizabeth Loock says:

    Loved the article…The tree carries with all the magic of Christmases past. This year we needed to take it down right after New year’s due to a kitchen renovation but I too like to take it down after MLK day. My deepest sympathies go to Veronica as this would have been a most difficult Christmas. I hope that she can find peace and perhaps find a special ornament to put on her tree next year in remembrance of those dear ones. Peace to all.


  4. Kathie Carpenti says:

    My tree is still up! I was thinking of taking it down today – or maybe not! I enjoy the light it gives off and the brightness it gives to me. Maybe I can decorate it for Valentines’ Day and St. Patrick’s day, etc. I say that every year; then end up taking it down so that I can put the room back “in order”. Thanks for the memories of the bubble lights!


  5. Patricia says:

    My family suffered a loss earlier this year my nephew Derrick was suddenly taken from us and like so many Holidays that have come and gone this Christmas was our first without him.
    Fifteen years ago, I lost my younger brother Tommy and that was so difficult for me
    so I did an artificial Memory Tree in honor of him and my parents who are now deceased and every year I have put it up.
    This year I went out and purchased my fresh tree and put it up but didn’t have any desire to decorate so I decided this tree would be in honor of Derrick. Each of my family members brought something that reminded them of Derrick and even my grade school-high school nephew and nieces made an ornament it was adorable.
    We laughed, we cried and somehow felt his presence, he was there with us!
    I know I will never forget his smile, his laugh and his just plain “specialness,”
    We celebrated his life!

    Thank you for sharing yours!


    • Patricia, thank you so much for your comment. My deepest sympathies on the loss of your nephew, as well as that of your brother and parents. What a wonderful tradition you have created to keep them all in your heart and to share their memories with each other. We’re holding you and your family in prayer.


  6. Nancy Gibbons says:

    When we had our first apartment, in 1971!, our pretty tree stayed up until Valentines Day. Our memories, whether sweet or silly, need to be shared and treasured. Thanks for sharing yours.


  7. What a beautiful post, Sr. Jeanne! This year, we promised ourselves a long Christmas season, as we shortchange the season last year. It has worked!

    We chose December 10th to light up the house with tree and greens for the banister, enjoying the warm white lights.I referred to the tree as our Solstice Tree until December 22nd, when ornaments were added. After Christmas, with days still short, we used the excuse of my husband Dan’s January 8th birthday to keep the tree at the front window. We now celebrate “Danuary” or “Danukkah”, with the festive tree beside us. Finally, on January 12th, I reluctantly bid my tree Adieu until next year.


  8. Cynthia Sabathier, CSJ says:

    Dear Jean,
    Thanks so much for your great article. I am with you on the” leave it up as long as possible” side of the debate. Here at our Hundred Oaks residence we left the community tree and decorations up, through the Epiphany. I took my small tree and most of my decorations down the following week. Yes, in the past I have gone all the way to the Feast of the Presentation with Christmas decor! In Louisiana of course we have the custom of decorating artificial trees with Mardi Gras decor from Kings’ day (Epiphany) to Mardi Gras (Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). Happy memories along with promised prayer for those whose Christmas season is tainted with grief.


  9. mary jo maher says:

    Little by little I take the ornaments off the fresh tree……….I take time to look at each one and somehow they hold a memory. Favorites are of the grandchildren when they were little–Our daughter in law and son bring a fresh tree each year now and we don’t decorate it until we re ” ready” to enjoy that “job”…….My husband of 54 years puts the lights on and they are all white lights………… it looks so pretty and simple in that first day or two of just the lights…….. then we complete the decorating with ornaments we have had for many years,,,some have been passed n to the kids as the grew up and had their own family/trees. With no snow in Michigan this year we really enjoyed the tree inside our living room……it warms the house and the spirit! The last thing to be packed away is the manger that we got from my sister and her family when we married in 1965! Christmas is good – trees are good……… but the birth of the Baby Jesus in the manger is the best of all gifts!
    On to a a Happy New Year 2019!


  10. Patricia Van Matre says:

    I so enjoyed the article. Our tree is kept up until the Baptism of Jesus. Our family has many wonderful traditions which my children have now passed on to their families adding their own. This Christmas was no exception!!

    The bubble lights were a reminder of going to my grandparents house at Christmas enjoying the time with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Such wonderful memories!

    Thank you for sharing.


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