01/04/2014 01:24 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2014

Taking Down Holiday Decorations

Now that Hanukkah and Christmas are over until another year and we are wishing "Happy New Year" to everyone we see, when is, or when was, the proper time to take down holiday decorations? There are several answers to this question, depending on what one means by "holiday" decorations.

If you are a commercial business with no thought of the religious meaning of "holiday," you probably have already taken down your holiday decorations and perhaps been replacing them with the red hearts of Valentine's Day. Or, even if you are not a commercial business but still give little thought to the religious significance of the so-called holiday season, thinking more in general terms about the excitement and celebrations leading up to Christmas and ending on New Year's Day, you may well have already taken down your holiday decorations or soon will. But if you think of the holiday season in religious terms, when you take down your holiday decorations depends on which holiday, or more correctly which "holy" day, you have been celebrating. Let me explain what I mean.

The word "holiday" is the combination of two Old English words: "holy" and "day." Originally, all "holidays" were "holy" days -- that is, days set aside by the Church to commemorate a religious event. Gradually, the word holiday became a generalized term to be used in referring to any number of days we have come to call holidays. In the United States, for example, we have many so-called holidays, such as Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day, to mention only a few. One may be able to find religious significance to some of these holidays, but they did not originate as "holy" days. Other countries have their own designations of secular holidays. And in many countries one's "vacation" is referred to as one's "holiday."

So what "holy" day(s) you are celebrating, or what your interpretation of that day(s) is, will shed light on when you probably feel most comfortable about taking down your holiday decorations. There are two "holy" days that are relatively close to each other -- the Jewish Hanukkah and the Christian Christmas. In the Western World Christmas is always observed on December 25, but the date of Hanukkah, always an eight-day observance, changes from year to year, and it will always be in November and/or December.

In 2013 Hanukkah started November 27 and ended December 5. So if you were observing Hanukkah, your "holy" day decorations, which historically are considerably less elaborate than Christmas decorations, would probably have been taken down very soon after December 5. In 2014, Hanukkah will be December 16-24, very close to Christmas. But whatever the date of Hanukkah, the decorations will usually be taken down the day after the last day of the Hanukkah observance.

Now turning to Christmas, when the decorations are taken down varies depending on one's interpretation of some Christmas customs. If you adhere to what is referred to as the liturgical calendar or church year, you will take down your Christmas decorations on Epiphany day, the day after the official end of the Christmas season.

For the Roman Catholic Church and for Protestant churches Epiphany is a set date and always falls each year on January 6. In the Western churches, Epiphany originally commemorated the baptism of Jesus and then the marriage feast at Cana. But since the fifth century, Epiphany has become the holy day that commemorates the arrival of the Wise Men or Magi who are portrayed as bringing gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). Many people celebrate Epiphany with the giving of gifts. Some people do this in addition to giving gifts on Christmas, and others do this instead of giving Christmas gifts.

The official name for the Christmas season is Christmastide, also known as the twelve days of Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas, or Christmastide, begin on Christmas Eve and end on the evening of January 5, the night before Epiphany day. Many people mistakenly think that the twelve days begin on Christmas day and end of Epiphany day. These twelve days are, of course, the inspiration for the well-known song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

There are many Christian denominations that pay very little attention to the liturgical calendar or church year as it is frequently referred to and do not observe or celebrate Epiphany. Members of those denominations, for the most part, consider that the Christmas season ends on New Year's Day and take down their Christmas or holiday decorations a few days after Christmas or on New Year's Day, or as soon after as time and weather permit.

Now that Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's Day are behind us, when is, or when was, the proper time to take down holiday decorations? The correct answer is a personal matter, depending on what "holy day" you have been celebrating and whether or not you belong to a Christian denomination that observes the liturgical calendar. We should, therefore, be respectful of whatever day someone chooses as the correct time to put his or her decorations away for another year.