Sunday, December 6, 2009

To Tree Or Not To Tree

When is the proper time to put up Christmas decorations?


When you have kids, there’s a lot of pressure to put the tree up as early as possible. I didn’t used to have very strong opinions on when to put the deccies up, apart from banning anything before December. That’s just wrong, although it appears that once we’ve had Thanksgiving over here (complete with green bean casserole), it’s open season. However, it also constitutes cruel and unusual punishment to make the kids wait until Christmas Eve, and, as the person responsible for wrapping and putting presents out (and Santa’s reindeer food) I couldn’t even contemplate adding extra items to that to-do list.

We put our tree up yesterday, and now I have a firm opinion on when it should be done. I swear it was an exhausting, frustrating all day event. We have an enormous artificial tree which is erected in millions of numbered parts. The Ball & Chain corralled the teens into helping while I hid and wrote Xmas cards, till all the shouting and general mayhem had finished. The decision, after much deliberation, was to put the lights on next otherwise the ornaments would probably get knocked off. Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth as we plugged in string after string of lights to find the middle bulbs all out, argued colo(u)red over white lights (as Lord knows, we have plenty of both) and generally made no progress.

The Ball & Chain (with at least one child in tow) made no less than three trips to Home Depot (B&Q equivalent) until I finally told him to stop messing around and just bloody buy new ones. They cost about $5 for a hundred miles fer cryin’ out loud.

He then needed a long nap poor thing, and I attempted to dress the tree with a 6 year old who was bent on testing the laws of physics by piling everything on one side, and who then wandered off “for a rest”. The Queenager was a big help – as far as dressing the tree went, but suddenly remembered homework when faced with the five big plastic empty containers still to be put back in the garage, glittery stuff sticking to everything, and a big mess to tidy up. Two hours later the place looked somewhat presentable – and I was exhausted. So, the answer. The best time to put the tree up is when the person who’s going to be clearing up the mess feels the most energetic.


As Toni so deftly illustrated, putting the tree up can be a chore (a woman I used to live with who is now known only as ‘she-who-must-not-be-named’ had a tree ritual that took—no exaggeration—two full days) and that can make the faint of heart, or the curmudgeonly among us, put it off until the last minute.

But as an American, the proper time to start decorating (not necessarily put up the tree) is as soon as Thanksgiving is over. Sometimes that very afternoon.

I expect this tradition varies from clan to clan, but everyone I know subscribed to it. Thanksgiving may not keep the stores from decorating in the last week of August, but it is as good as a starter’s pistol for the average American family.

That’s why Brit’s aren’t really sure about when to start. Decorations begin to appear in November and sort of expand until Christmas week when everyone who is going to put up something has done so, then it levels out and things begin to disappear in stages after New Year.

As to when the proper time to take down the decorations is, we can look into that in January.

Got something you want us to address? E-mail your suggestion to:
MHMail55-MT AT
or just pop it into the comment box.


  1. We tend not to put the tree up until a week or so before Christmas. The reasoning is, if you are going to have a real tree, and follow the tradition of keeping it up unitl Twelfth Night, it'll be dried out and dropping pines by the 6th of Jan, so it's nice to put it up later and keep it fresh. Mind you, everyone here put their outdoor decorations up the day after Thanksgiving and I've conceded to that by putting fairy lights round a fir tree in our driveway.

  2. I put mine up this year on November 3rd. I had the perfect excuse - my aunt was visiting from home and we never get to decorate together anymore;) Since my husband will never initiate de-decorating, it (wait, 2 actually, so they) will stay up until February. I love Christmas....

  3. My (American) wife insists that the weekend immediately after Thanksgiving is the only time she will contemplate for tree and christmas decorations. I'm British so this is waaaay too early for me, the earliest should be the first weekend of december, and preferably the 2nd weekend.

    As for taking the darned stuff down, well I would go with 12th night, but no, she who decides these things, is ready for it to go by Boxing day, and will only grudgingly allow it a couple more days, but must be gone before New Year.

  4. Oh yes, I remember the first Xmas we spent at my American in-laws. Every single sign of Christmas was down by about 8am Boxing Day. Bah humbug!

  5. My brother and family visited us today, and left intending to get out the decorations for his granddaughter so they could decorate tomorrow. That really surprised me - I expect to do it the weekend before Christmas. (In a year where Christmas was a Monday or Tuesday, maybe not leaving it quite as late as the weekend.)
    If that seems late, I can remember an episode of the seventies sitcom The Good Life, that revolved around the tree and decorations being delivered on Christmas Eve.

  6. I'm usually like Nappy Valley Girl and get it up (oh err missus) about a week before Christmas seeing as I always have a real tree. But this year we got it put up this week. It will probably be a bare stick by the 25th.

  7. When I was young, my family incorporated all of these traditions at once: we would begin to decorate on Thanksgiving or the day after, the tree (a real one, always) would arrive on the 23rd of December and my dad didn't bring it into the house until the 24th. Then, we would get up on Christmas morning to find that Santa had decorated it and left us piles of gifts--or at least that's what they told me, the lying bastards ;) (Actually, I remian in awe of their energy and ingenuity.)

    And we un-decorated on 12th night.

  8. In the US I always decorated on Thanksgiving. I was away from family a lot on the day, so it was easy as I did not have a meal to prepare, and I was off work. Next year I will be cooking, so I imagine decorations will go up at the latest by the weekend of/after Thanksgiving.

    This year (in England), I put up the tree on Thanksgiving Day. It's an artificial tree, and we don't have any outdoor decorations (because of where we live). I also wanted the tree to be up for Thanksgiving Dinner, which we had the Saturday after. It looked a little bare under it for a week or so, but gradually things are starting to come in the mail and we are picking up bits and pieces for the kids. They were quite happy to have the tree up early. I sit and enjoy the lights a little every day, just my own quiet time.

    I'll take it down on New Year's Day. I've never heard of people taking stuff down the day after Christmas. That's a day for resting after the stress/travel of Christmas. Or for shopping, if you're my family back home.

  9. Yes, there is something very soothing about sitting in the dark gazing at the lights. Except in our house where we have about one row of lights on the tree that blink maniacally and the rest are just "on". Pah!

  10. The 10th December was my Dad's birthday so when I was a youngster we always waited until after that (not that we had much in the way of Christmas decorations in my parents home - allegedly there wasn't room for them!!!!).
    In adulthood I've adopted a similar strategy of doing it the weekend nearest to 10th. That way I don't feel they've been up forever when Christmas actually arrives but I do have enough time to enjoy the effort of putting them up. But, as Toni so rightly put it, the principal decider is when He-who-clears-up-all-household-messes (i.e. ME) has the energy.

    Somehow only just discovered this blog despite enjoying Expat Mum's contributions to MMM . Usually, if I find a new blog I just look forwards but I have a feeling I'll be exploring past posts on this one, it looks so fascinating.

  11. My English husband would have the tree up the weekend before (it seems too much like clutter to him) but the wailing voices of all the kids and his American wife mean he gives in every year and we put the tree up mid-December. Except this year we put the tree up last weekend (much to his quiet dismay) because of other plans this coming weekend.

    Its a family event for us--every year for a while each of the children chose an ornament from local shops so now they all like to hang 'their' ornaments on the tree--it's theme is a bit of everything, just like us. Lovely! And every year the oldest child (now 20) rearranges everyone's ornaments until it appeals to her aesthetic. Fortunately we have a tree base that holds water otherwise we'd probably has a nice ring of needles under the tree before Christmas arrives.

    As for taking it down, everyone helps again (so that no one damages 'their' ornaments), everything is carefully wrapped up and boxed and put in the loft, all shortly after New Years Day. It all looks a bit 'yesterday' by the time the New Year rolls around and I feel its nice symbolism to get rid of all the decos in the first few days of the year.

  12. Oh I have totally embraced the American way, mine goes up the day after Thanksgiving every year now.

  13. It's now the 19th Dec, and we still haven't got a tree or any decorations up. Not sure I can be bothered now. We're just rubbish! The tree problem is that Son's room has to be tidied up so that the drumkit can move upstairs to make room for the tree, but he's not great at tidying his room, and I'm damn well not doing it for him AGAIN. So it's unlikely to happen.

    No excuse for the other decorations other than laziness, but hey, I'm not bothered about them, and if husband and Son want them, they can get them down and do them themselves! They won't of course; they want them done but only if I do them. I'm not bothered either way - it's just more work for me, so looks like we're doing without again this year - think we did without last year too. Bah humbug and all that.

    Bet the Amerians will think I'm awful. I probably am. But hey, I don't care!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.