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.

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