Voices: Merry Candlemas! It's time to undeck the halls

Lauren Olsen

OAKWOOD, Ohio — Here it is, already February, but it still looks a lot like Christmas everywhere you go.

A pretty display of Christmas lights in Oakwood, Ohio, on Jan. 23, 2016.

Christmas lights at this time of year drive me bonkers. For starters, they make me melancholy. It's a reminder that my favorite holiday is over — Christmas is more than a month behind or almost 11 months ahead. Either way, it stinks.

Then I begin to get worried. Should somebody check on these people? What if, shall we say, their Christmas spirit up and left them permanently? At what point should we bust down their festooned front doors?

After that, I get a little miffed. OK, OK, I get it. You’re busy and don’t have time to take down the lights. But how hard is it to unplug the automatic timer?

Finally, I become resigned to the notion that it’s never going to end. Why, yes — the red ones are for Valentine’s Day! The green ones are for St. Patrick’s Day! It makes perfect sense now.

C’mon, people. It’s time to move on. Ask yourself this: Has anybody wished you “Merry Christmas” recently? And were they drunk?

Christmas is done. Over. Kaput.

But imagine my surprise when I recently learned that in fact, it’s not.

That’s right — according to tradition, Christmas is not actually over until a day called Candlemas, or the "Presentation of Jesus at the Temple," which occurs a whopping 40 days after Christmas. For those of you without a handy-dandy calendar, it's celebrated on Feb. 2.

It’s my fault for not knowing. I probably was told about Candlemas years ago, considering I was raised a Catholic who dutifully went to Mass every Sunday and, well, didn’t pay any attention.

According to a 2013 article in The Catholic Register, “Those who have not yet taken down their Christmas decorations may rejoice to know that it is perfectly traditional to leave them up all January. But, alas, on Candlemas Eve, down they must come.”

I can’t help but envision a cheerful nun writing this — in my imagination, it’s got to be Maria from The Sound of Music — and she’s sincerely bummed that — alas! — down those decorations must come on Feb. 1. (Not to mention that Captain von Trapp hasn’t declared his love yet, but that’s a whole other problem for another day, perhaps in March when there’s no Candlemas to worry about.)

The cheerful nun in my imagination assures those people who couldn’t be bothered to unplug their automatic timers that they can “rejoice” in knowing that it’s OK to look lazy. But I can imagine them getting a hard smack with a ruler if, you-know-who forbid, they take it a step too far and wait until the actual day of Candlemas. For shame! Sloth is a sin, you know. Three Hail Marys and an Our Father for your penance!

So how do you solve a problem like Maria? I’m not sold on this Candlemas thing. I mean, if that’s the case, how do you explain the song, We Wish You a Merry Christmas? The lyrics go:

“We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year.”

You’ll notice the song does not say:

“We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year

And some more Christmas after that

Until Candlemas gets here.”

Nope, I’m pretty sure most people don’t know what the heck Candlemas is. I'm — dare I say it? — dead certain of it.

Which brings us back to… D’oh! It’s time to shut off those lights, please.

Olsen is a copy editor at USA TODAY.