On Monday, the N.Y.C. Sanitation Department began its annual curbside pickups of discarded Christmas trees.
Monday! Less than a week after Christmas Day. Who gets rid of their tree that fast?
Obviously, a lot of people. But then, in recent years, some folks appear to be putting up their trees around Halloween, so by Dec. 31, the things are nothing but dead stalks holding brown needles.
For shame. This is what has happened because the holiday has become so commercialized that some stores start selling Christmas cards in August. (I will not name the stores; they deserve no free advertising.) The first time I saw this, I complained to the store manager, who explained he had no control over the premature promotion; it had been ordered by “corporate.”
Whatever happened to the 12 Days of Christmas? And I am not talking about partridges in pear trees.
In olden days, happy golden days of yore, the Christmas season did not start until after Thanksgiving. But it lasted through Jan. 6.
If you count them, the 12 Days of Christmas actually extend from Dec. 25 through only Jan. 5. But the 6th, Epiphany/ Feast of the Magi, has long been the traditional final day of Christmastide. This was the day that the Three Wise Men finally arrived in Bethlehem, bearing their gifts for the Christ Child. The importance wasn’t the gifts; it was the manifestation to man that this infant was the Son of God. (If I’ve got that wrong, theologians correct me please!)
In any case, the 6th is what we marked as Little Christmas in my home, a tradition linked to the Ukrainian side of my family. (And, I have just discovered, apparently to the Celtic side, too. Who knew?)
Because my father had long since “converted” to Roman Catholic from Ukrainian Catholic (not to be confused with Ukrainian Orthodox or Russian Orthodox; it all gets very confusing), we had no special Little Christmas celebrations, other than going to church for the Feast of the Epiphany. But the day did mark the official end of the Yuletide season. And it was on Jan. 6 that our Christmas tree and other decorations came down. Never a day before. From the scattershot research I have done on (pass the salt grains please)
Wikipedia, Little Christmas appears to date to the Julian Calendar, which was succeeded by the current Gregorian Calendar, which marked Christmas as Dec. 25. However, also according to Wikipedia, even before the Gregorian Calendar was adopted, western churches had begun celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25. Wikipedia also reports that Little Christmas is traditional in Ireland (Jan. 6) and the Scottish Highlands (Jan. 1). I had never heard of that before. I’d be happy to have that confirmed by any of you Irish or Scottish readers out there.
In the west, Jan. 6 is also known as Three Kings Day, cause for particular celebration in Hispanic communities. And just as children put out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, some Spanish youngsters reportedly put out boxes of grass for the camels of the Magi on the eve of Jan. 6. I had never heard of that before, either, but it is very sweet.
Whatever its origin, Little Christmas is still a tradition in many families, mine included. (The reindeer antlers and red Rudolph nose decorating my car will remain until the 6th, by the way.)
If you have never marked the date before, may I suggest you start, if for no other reason than because it extends the season of peace and joy. For more practical purposes, it gives you an excuse to delay the ornery task of removing the lights on your roof and deflating the giant snowman on your lawn. But, please, try to get them down sometime before Easter.
– Karen Zautyk