Auld Yule

Christmas Tree

Our Christmas Tree

At this time of year I feel torn between two traditions, on the one hand I have people telling me that I should make sure that my Christmas Decorations are taken down before the 6th January because it is bad luck to have them up after that, and yet on the other hand, I like to pay homage to Auld Yule and keep them up until at least that day has passed.

Auld Yule (6th January) is the day that was Christmas before the change to the Gregorian calendar in Britain in 1752. Shetland was one of the places that refused to adopt the new calendar and so continued to celebrate Yule on the old date which was now the 5th January prior to 1800, and then 6th January after the leap year in 1800[1].

Unst, in the North of Shetland didn’t start to recognise the modern Christmas date until the 1950s, when children at the Anderson Institute would have return to school before Christmas. Even in my childhood there were still a few families that celebrated Christmas on Auld Yule. Foula, another island in Shetland which is even more remote than Unst, still celebrates Auld Yule today[2].

As to the belief held that it is bad luck to leave decorations up after the 6th, this seems to be quite a modern idea. Traditionally, Catholics did not take their Christmas decorations down until the 7th January[3], the day after Epiphany (Twelfth Day of Christmas, coincidentally also Auld Yule), and in Elizabethan England it was customary to leave decorations up until Candlemas (2nd February); this is still done in some other Western European countries such as Germany[4].

So how do I resolve my feeling of being torn. Well, my solution also solves another problem which comes with the taking down of Christmas decorations – that of the room looking bare when you’re done. My solution is to take my decorations down gradually, starting on the 5th but finishing after the 6th, and doing so in stages so that we get used to the room looking bare on the mantle, and the walls without Christmas Cards, but still have the tree up, then the tree comes down later and we’ve got used to the bareness gradually.

Referenced Links

6 thoughts on “Auld Yule

  1. The following is an extract from one of my Masters degree essays a couple of years ago:

    “In 1853 the second annual gathering of the Clansmen’s Club (Comunn an Fhéile), which was an evening of music, song, dining and dancing, took place in Trongate on what a contemporary report called ‘Auld Hogmanay’, 12th January.

    ‘It may here be stated that the actuating principle of this fraternity of Celts is, by encouraging the use of the ancient Highland garb, so intimately and indelibly associated with many interesting thoughts of days long past …’

    A noteworthy cultural point is the identification of Auld Hogmanay in line with the Orthodox Church’s date for Little Christmas on 6th January, established by the Julian Calendar. In 2012 the Atholl Country Life Museum will celebrate what they call the Auld New Year on 13th January thereby maintaining an ancient tradition.”

    There are times when i wish Christmas decorations were taken down on 26th December !

    • I read something today, while looking for references for this post, that said many Americans feel that way (ready to take decs down on Boxing Day) because they’ve had them up since Thanksgiving. I think Christmas ‘planning’ starts so early these days that many people are sick of it by the time the day arrives. It’s a real shame. Maybe try ignoring it until close to Christmas so you won’t be tired of it by Boxing Day 🙂

  2. Happy New Year, Morag! Like you I have to do it in stages. The emotional side of the holidays is very strong with me and I can’t give up the enchanting glitter so quickly. Everything gradually gets put away between Epiphany and Candlemass. The dollhouse and dolls are the last to be put away.

    • I’m fascinated by the dollhouse and dolls idea. Is this something you blogged about before I started following you? I’d be interested to hear more about it – and some photos?

      • Morag, I’ve not blogged about it but will tonight! The photos are at my other location. When I get there tonight I will upload to the Child out of time blog. It’s a 1:6 scale dollhouse (Barbie Sized). It’s all very homey and amateurish but I love it! Glad you’re interested and will let you know when posted.

        The challenge my late Mom and I had for a few years was to take the same dolly family and picture their Christmas morning. We’d make a story around it. I’d take photos to bring to the residence when I visited my Mom. This way she could see what a gift her ideas were to me and how our work together gave me inspiration and expression.

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