It still looks a lot like Christmas in our house. The tree remains lit and fully decorated, and we still have garlands wrapped with lights and sparkling ribbon decorating our buffet and banister. I love coming home from work on these dark, chilly lights, flipping a couple switches and creating an instant wonderland of warmth and color.


But soon all that festive stuff that we hauled out so eagerly a few weeks ago is going to start feeling like junky clutter that I can't wait to banish back to the basement.

That will probably happen this weekend or next. We're mid-January people when it comes to dismantling the tree. (Although I confess there was one year in the early '90s when we let it languish into February. What can I say? I was a harried working mom with a full-time job and two pre-schoolers. At least that was my excuse at the time.)

I know some people can't wait to get the tree down and out of the house. In my neighborhood, trees started showing up curbside on the morning of Dec. 26, and there are at least a half dozen now waiting for this week's garbage truck.

Personally, I don't understand the haste to dump the tree immediately after Christmas. We had dinner at some friends' house on New Year's night, and I loved seeing their holiday decor.

The traditional custom was to leave Christmas trees and other decorations up until Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. After that, it was believed that decorations could cause bad luck. Long ago, people apparently believed that tree spirits lived in the greenery. It was good to give spirits a temporary indoor haven from harsh midwinter, but after that, it was considered necessary to return them to the outdoors. Failure to release your tree spirits in a timely fashion was to risk a delayed spring and agricultural disaster.

These days, I don't know anybody who believes in evil tree spirits, but most people still seem to have a strong aversion to having a Christmas tree up past the first week of January. How about you? When do you pack up your ornaments and take down  your tree?