Here are a few post-Christmastide thoughts, including some photos of the Christmas arrangements in our churches for you to see.
When do the Christmas decorations come down? And does that have anything to do with when they went up? In the shops, they go up as early as possible, and then Boxing Day is when we swap over to St Valentine’s Day chocolates and early Easter Eggs. Many of our neighbours on the Abingdon Road had their trees up and lit in November – hardly surprising, since not a few are student houses whose occupants had no idea what might happen to them over Christmas, so wanted – needed – to make the most of the comfort of Christmas cheer.
You could take things down on Twelfth Night, at the Epiphany, as the Magi have arrived, but there are often, as this year, days after Epiphany when the colour of the Mass is still white, rather than green, and the “festive season” is clearly ongoing. One could also take them down on or after the Baptism of Our Lord, as the feast which bridges Christmas/Epiphany and Ordinary Time.
But the last of the feasts which is directly tied to Christmas is Candlemas on 2 February – the Presentation of the 40-day-old Jesus in the temple, because he was his mother’s first child, and a boy; and the concomitant Purification of Our Lady after childbirth. Perhaps that seems far too late to you, much too far beyond when we ought to have tidied everything away.
But brace yourselves, for here’s the twist (such as it is) – if you put up your tree on 15 November, like my neighbours, and took it down on 6 January, that’s a total of 52 days. If you put it up on 23 December (like all sensible, righteous, sober and godly people, so that it has time to acclimatise, and then you decorate it on Christmas Eve; you may buy it earlier if you wish), and then take it down on 2 February, that is only 41 days. Less Christmas lasts you longer.
(In practice, the true answer is to take it down on the last day on which the Council will collect old Christmas trees.)
Not the Medjool kind from perfumed Araby, but the dates of the so-called “Moveable Feasts”. These are the occasions in the year which depend ultimately on the date of Easter, which is calculated according to the positions of the moon. This was once really quite complicated maths, and you will often find in old prayerbooks and missals little tables showing you the dates of things for the next twenty years or so, involving such things as Epacts and the Golden Number. You may remember that how this was done, and the result it gave, was a hot subject of debate in early Anglo-Saxon Britain.
Ash Wednesday is always 46 days before Easter. But it can be as early as 4 February (which will happen next in 2285, and last happened in 1818) and as late as 10 March (which will happen next in 2038, and last happened in 1943).
So it helps to have a day when you can let everyone know what all the moveable feasts are, especially if they are not good at reading all those little tables. This traditionally happens on the Epiphany, and there is a special proclamation called the Noveritis, which has a fill-in-the-blanks structure, and a special tune not unlike that of the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil, designed to do just that. You can see it and download it here: