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British Life & Culture

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by Mandy Barrow

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Facts about Twelfth Night - Decorations

Twelfth Night is the night before Twelfth Day.

"The evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking".
Oxford English Dictionary

Twelfth Night (5th January) is when all Christmas Decorations should be removed so as not to bring bad luck upon the home. If decorations are not removed on Twelfth Night, they should stay up all year.

Why is Twelfth Night on 5th January and not 6th January?

Twelfth Night Traditions | The Twelve Days of Christmas

Why is it bad luck to leave the decorations up after Twelfth Night?

hollyLong ago it was thought that leaving the decorations up would cause a disaster. People believed that tree-spirits lived in the greenery (holy, ivy etc) they decorated their houses with. The greenery was brought into the house to provide a safe haven for the tree-spirits during the harsh midwinter days. Once this period was over it was necessary to return the greenery back outside to release the tree-spirits into the countryside once again. Failure to do this would mean that vegetation would not be able to start growing again (spring would not return), leading to an agricultural disaster. visit

It was also thought that, if you left the greenery in the house, the tree-spirits would cause mischief in the house until they were released. visit for more information

Today people still feel uneasy about leaving the Christmas decorations up after Twelfth Night. Despite decorations now being made of foil or paper, and even though the tree-spirits are long forgotten, the superstition still survives. visit for more information

Did you know?

Until the 19th century, people would keep decorations of holly, ivy, box, yew, lauren and mistletoe up until February 2nd, Candlemas Day, the end of the Christmas season, 40 days after the birth of Jesus.

The Three Wise Men are not included in the nativity scene until January 6, Three King's Day. The nativity scene is traditionally not taken down until 2 February, Candlemas.

In the reign of Victoria decorations came down on Twelfth Night and generally were burnt.

From a visitor to our website

"There was another tradition in North Worcestershire when I was young of keeping the holly decoration until Shrove Tuesday and putting it on the fire when making the pancakes (when we still had open range fires in kitchens, of course!)"
Rod Payne

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Why is Twelfth Night on 5th January and not 6th January?

Twelfth Night Traditions

Click here to see photographs of the Twelfth Night annual seasonal celebration held in the Bankside area of London.

A few other comments from visitors to this page

"Thank you so much for all that information about the tree spirits and 12th night. I am glad to say that thanks to you they are all safely back in our garden--and we now know the right night to do it on !!
Happy New Year to you all
." Susie Hammond

"Thanks for the excellent explanation of 12th night - much better than Wikipedia!" Malcolm, London

"May I congratulate you on your fantastic informative website. Traditions can become lost and adapted by people along the way and your clear explanations of all the festivals and traditions is breathtaking. I myself am celebrating tonight (twelfth night) and then removing my decorations before midnight. You had the information that we have long argued about. It is now settled and will remain our tradition. Thank you." Vicky

"Thank you for the very clear explanation of twelfth night which has finally settled a very long running argument in the office about twelfth night being the 5th or 6th. Thanks You!" Brian Sheldon

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Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.