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It’s 6th January today, which means I’m right on target to take my Christmas decorations down for the year, or I may have missed it by a day, depending on your chosen timetable.

Which may or may not mean I’m in for some back luck. Take your pick.

That is of course, if you celebrate Christmas in the first place and have had the company of a sparkly Christmas tree for the last month or so. And that is of course, if I – or you – are to be influenced by century old Christian traditions and liturgical calendars, which seem to shift with time and have various iterations and interpretations according to religion and culture. There’s actually a lot of variation. In any case, they’re really quite interesting.

Have you heard about the Twelve Days of Christmas? That’s what it’s all about. The 12 days of Christmas start on Christmas Day (or perhaps Christmas Eve, depending on which theory you subscribe to) and therefore end on 5 January, or the 6th (depending on which theory you subscribe to).

The official liturgical ending of Christmastide, the Christmas season, is the Epiphany, celebrated on 6th January. That’s when the three wise men finally discovered little baby Jesus, some 12 days after his birth, and had an ‘epiphany’ or great revelation. They had to travel quite a distance to meet him, so according to that timetable the wise men are only arriving now, bearing their gifts. The 6th January is also the day that Jesus was baptised by his cousin.

There’s all sorts of ways people around the world celebrate the day, not just by clearing away the Christmas gear. According to Rob Kerby from Beliefnet.com

‘Celebration varies widely around the world. Greek Orthodox youth take a frigid swim. In New Orleans, it is the start of Carnival, which ends with Mardi Gras. In Russia, any water poured on Epiphany is regarded as holy. In Latin America, children receive gifts. In Shakespeare’s England, it was the last day of a series of wild parties!’

That last bit explains the name of that famous play Shakespeare wrote to be performed on Christmastide, the Twelfth night, about the shenanigans that went on with people getting dressed up and being silly impersonating others etc. I only discovered that about Twelfth Night last night – so I guess I had a little epiphany of my own!

So there you have it, the reason people often say you have to pack your Christmas stuff away on 5th (or possibly 6th) January. Beware the bad luck if you don’t.

Of course, this means that if we’ve just restricted our Christmas celebrations to  Christmas day alone, we may have missed out on eleven whole days of celebrations, partying and present-giving. Remember that song, on the first day of Christmas …?

So farewell Christmas sparkle and my little angels and shimmering tree. See you in December …