We like to call them 'winter lights'

We like to call them 'winter lights'

Our Christmas lights are still up. So is our tree. And I am not apologizing.

I have friends who are super-organized and take their trees down on New Year's Day. They're ready to move on, clean house, start fresh.

I usually reach that point, too - later.

When I was young our family kept our tree and other decorations up through the 12 days of Christmas, until Epiphany, Jan. 6, which celebrates the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. The feast day is now observed by the Catholic Church on the following Sunday and officially marks the end of the Christmas season.

We were Catholic, but we were also procrastinators. We typically waited until at least Dec. 21 to put up a tree, partly because my dad, a milkman who worked 15-hour days, never had much free time until schools closed for the holidays.

We'd buy the tree in mid-December, keep it in a bucket of water outside, then slice off a bit more trunk when we brought it into the house to decorate so it would stay fresh past New Year's.

When my grandmother was young, the family tree didn't go up until Christmas Eve. She told me how she would wait impatiently in the hall as her parents decorated the tree in the parlor with candles and ornaments, then threw open the doors to the wide-eyed delight of their children.

But traditions change over the years. With the advent of artificial trees and a holiday shopping season that now begins roughly around Labor Day, families start putting trees up at Thanksgiving, or even sooner.

We've moved our tradition up a bit, too. Because we often visit family over the holidays, we try to put our tree up a couple of weeks before Christmas so we can enjoy it. (Besides, if we're going to invest several hours unpacking ornaments and decorating the house, I want it to be worth the effort.)

We didn't quite make our target this year but we managed to decorate it about a week before Christmas. Just seeing that tree every morning at the foot of the stairs made me smile.

When we returned to town, I immediately plugged in the tree and our ragtag collection of outdoor lights (which, per our usual course, includes a  Rudolph with a head that keeps falling off and a nearly new topiary that for some reason only lights up halfway).

We'll probably take everything down this weekend, and I'll go through that odd mixture of emotions: relief that I don't have to sweep up any more needles, satisfaction at the clearing of clutter, sadness at the sudden nakedness of the room.

Until then, I'm enjoying our tree and its eclectic mixture of ornaments - the beautiful glass ones I collected before my children came along, the keepsakes I've bought them every year since they were born, and the homespun treasures made by their own little hands.

With apologies to my punctual friends, our lights are still up outside, too. As I drive around town on these dark winter nights, I'm thankful for other procrastinating souls who still have lights twinkling in the bushes. There's not much else to brighten the month of January, and somehow those lights sustain me.

I'm just not ready to give it all up - yet.










Are you an early decorator, a procrastinator, or both? Leave a comment below!


Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. You can contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth.


Photos by Julie Wurth

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Jodi Heckel wrote on January 05, 2012 at 9:01 am
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We still have the tree up, and the outdoor lights on. They'll come down in the next few days, but we always wait until at least a few days into January to take decorations down.

I've found myself slightly irritated by some neighbors this year who turned on the outdoor lights BEFORE Thanksgiving, and stopped lighting them immediately after Christmas, even though I noticed this morning they are still up.


Julie Wurth wrote on January 05, 2012 at 11:01 am
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Yes! That drives me crazy, too.


Meg Dickinson wrote on January 05, 2012 at 10:01 am
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I am so with you on this one. I refused to take our tree down last weekend - I figure I can get away with having it up with part of January. April, not so much, so I'm trying to enjoy it while I can.

I've also been enjoying the lights in the neighborhood that are still lit up - there's something so friendly about them.

Mike Howie wrote on January 05, 2012 at 10:01 am
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My parents always put our tree up on Christmas Eve, too, and took it down after Epiphany. One of my fondest memories is when my dad would test the strings of lights, by turning off all the lights in the living room and plugging each strand in, one at a time.

(One year, I came home from college to find ... an ARTIFICIAL tree. Oh, it hurt. But years ago, I discovered exactly why they made that switch.)

The eclectic mixture of ornaments is what makes it worthwhile, no?

And our lights, such as they are, are still up, too. Like yours, they'll probably come down this weekend.

Julie Wurth wrote on January 05, 2012 at 11:01 am
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Mike and Meg: I'm glad to know there are some kindred spirits out there! I have a friend who says the Martin Luther King holiday is her deadline for taking down lights.

But Mike, an artificial tree? Say it isn't so!

Darren Holt wrote on January 05, 2012 at 10:01 pm
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Back home, we weren't allowed to put decorations up until well into December although I would probably be pestering from the first!  I was also the type of kid that would remind my mother the exact number of days until Christmas.  Especially amusing in July (to me, at least).  As for coming down, that was always Twelfth Night, aka Epiphany.

My wife had a different tradition, her family would put the tree up either on Thanksgiving Day or the Friday after, so now we've merged them: we put the decorations up on the Friday after Thanskgiving and usually take them down on the 6th of January.

Of course, with busy schedules and children, they sometimes stay up a little longer than planned...

Julie Wurth wrote on January 06, 2012 at 9:01 am
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My kids are the same way - we basically mark the year by counting down to birthdays or Christmas! Thanks for sharing!

Molly1 wrote on January 06, 2012 at 12:01 am

I have started putting up the outside lights on Veteran's Day, because it is usually a little warmer, and I have the day off from work.  I don't turn them on until after Thanksgiving, and then my wife and I both agree to keep them up and glowing until Epiphany or a couple of days after.  I will be removing mine this Saturday.

Keep your lights shining,


Julie Wurth wrote on January 06, 2012 at 9:01 am
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Speaking as someone who has nearly gotten frostbite putting up lights in mid-December, I think you're on to something there! :)

Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!