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, firstname.lastname@example.org  or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth.
Photos by Julie Wurth
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