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English Heritage and celebrities including Gyles Brandreth and Rev Kate Bottley share details of Candlemas ahead of February 2





While many of us were quick to whip our Christmas decorations down before Twelfth Night, an apparent growing number of households are choosing to leave them in place until February.

But what is Candlemas and why is it prompting people to keep their festive displays in place for 40 days after the main event?

When does your family take the decorations down? Image: Stock photo.
When does your family take the decorations down? Image: Stock photo.

What is Candlemas?

Falling exactly 40 days after Christmas, Candlemas takes place on February 2. The day is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to English Heritage it marked the official end to Christmas in medieval England.

Candlemas marked the end of Christmas in medieval England. Image: iStock photo.
Candlemas marked the end of Christmas in medieval England. Image: iStock photo.

Is it increasing in popularity?
After the bleak months of the Covid pandemic, English Heritage were among those in 2021 to join a campaign which encouraged people to leave up their Christmas decorations.

Following an especially tough year, said the organisation, it suggested people could leave their festive ornaments, and in particular bright lights in place, for an additional dose of joy and adopt the trends of historic England.

As a result English Heritage also left its own displays up in a number of well-known properties including Audley End House in Essex, Framlingham Castle in Suffolk and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

The organisation has also issued several reminders at the start of this year to people feeling sad at the thought of taking displays down - reminding them that there is the option to enjoy them for at least another month.

What happens on February 2?

English Heritage says Candlemas was considered an important feast day, when traditionally candles to be used in churches over the coming year would be blessed and candelight processions would then take place in honour of the planned feast. The ancient festival also marked the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice bringing the shortest day and the spring equinox.

Evidence that decorations were kept up until the evening before Candlemas is well documented, it says, and to this day Christmas cribs remain in place in many churches until Candlemas, with their removal described in an early 17th-century poem by Robert Herrick that starts 'Down with the rosemary, and so; Down with the bays and misletoe.'

Today, a number of churches also choose to hold Christingle services and other significant church events and gatherings on and around Castlemas.

Taking the decorations down before Twelfth Night, says English Heritage, is a more modern tradition. Image: iStock.
Taking the decorations down before Twelfth Night, says English Heritage, is a more modern tradition. Image: iStock.

What about Twelfth Night?

Candlemas opposes the theory that leaving decorations up beyond Twelfth Night is bad luck, which historians say is a more modern take on the tradition.

Dr Michael Carter, English Heritage’s Senior Properties Historian, explained: "In the Middle Ages, houses would be decorated with greenery for the Christmas season on Christmas Eve day. The feast of Christmas started at around 4pm on Christmas Eve afternoon and continued until the Epiphany on January 6.

"But contrary to popular belief, the Christmas season actually continues right through to Candlemas on February 2 so there's no real reason why you should take your decorations down earlier.

"The tradition that it is bad luck to keep decorations up after Twelfth Night and the Epiphany is a modern invention, although it may derive from the medieval notion that decorations left up after Candlemas eve would become possessed by goblins! I’m of the opinion that, after the year we’ve all had, we certainly deserve to keep the Christmas cheer going a little longer."

And Dr Carter isn't the only one.

Presenter Gyles Brandreth is among those to have revealed that he intends to leave his tree and decorations up until February, which saw many people agree that they too would be doing the same to lessen the dark days of winter, while radio presenter and Gogglebox favourite the Rev Kate Bottley said that cribs would be remaining at her place of worship, like at many others, until Candlemas.