When is 12th Night 2021? Date you should take your Christmas decorations down - and the epiphany explained

The Twelfth Night traditionally marks the end of the festive period

After the Christmas celebrations die down and the new year has begun comes the time to take down our beloved decorations.

It’s a sad moment, as it symbolises the end of the festive period and signals a return to work for many people.

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The “right time” to take down decorations is a hotly-debated topic, with some people opting to dismantle their tree soon after Christmas Day and others hoping to hold on to the festive feeling for as long as possible.

The Twelfth Night signals the last chance to take down Christmas decorations (Shutterstock)
The Twelfth Night signals the last chance to take down Christmas decorations (Shutterstock)

Yet, there is a traditional date that decorations should come down - the Twelfth Night.

This is when the Twelfth Night falls this year, why you should take down your decorations then - and what the observance means.

What is the Twelfth Night?

Everyone knows of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, but not many people know of the tradition that it comes from.

The Twelfth Night is a religious observance marking the end of Christmas, and it traditionally falls 12 nights after 25 December.

The observance is also considered to mark the coming of the Epiphany - a Christian feast day which occurs on 6 January.

The Epiphany is celebrated by the Western Church as the day the wise men visited baby Jesus.

William Shakespeare’s famous play, Twelfth Night, was also written to be performed 12 nights after Christmas and has themes of festivity and merriment.

But for many people in the UK - and some in Europe and America - the Twelfth Night signals the last chance to take down Christmas decorations.

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When is Twelfth Night 2021?

The date of the Twelfth Night can be confusing, falling on either 5 or 6 January each year depending on different Christian traditions.

If 12 nights are counted from 25 December, it falls on 5 January - the date in which Anglicans mark Twelfth Night.

However, other churches count the 12 nights from Boxing Day, which would mean the Twelfth Night is on 6 January.

Indeed, in modern times, Twelfth Night is considered to fall on 5 January, with Christmas Day counted as the first day.

Why do people take their Christmas decorations down on Twelfth Night?

If you want to avoid bad luck, all your decorations and your Christmas tree should be dismantled on 5 January - or 6 January at the absolute latest.

This belief is considered to have been decided by the Victorians, who thought Christmas decorations should be taken down on the Twelfth Night so everyone could go back to work.

The days between Christmas and Twelfth Night then became known as the official festive season in the 19th century.

Before this, the Tudors celebrated the festive season for much longer, until 1 February.

Do we celebrate Twelfth Night?

Traditionally, there were huge feasts and parties on Twelfth Night, but those celebrations have become more uncommon in modern times.

Cake was baked, bagpipes were played, and people played games and pranks on their friends.

One tradition, wassailing, is sometimes still celebrated today in the UK on Twelfth Night.

A wassail is an ale-based drink, which is seasoned with spices and honey.

It was served in large bowls and passed around as people said “wassail”, derived from the Old English term “waes hael” meaning “be well”.