The Christmas season is upon us. The lights, trees, music, parties, traditions and time with family and friends add a little sparkle to our everyday lives in a way that convinces us that it really is the most wonderful time of the year. But even as the calendar is filling up with various events and activities, this year I’m finding myself to be less excited about all of the “stuff” of Christmas, and more excited about celebrating Advent as a family.
Advent, which means “coming” or “to arrive at,” is a time of reflection and preparation for the day of Christ’s birth. It’s sometimes observed by the lighting of candles in an Advent wreath, along with a series of liturgical readings; and as I’ve only just begun learning, is also traditionally observed by a 40-day fast leading up to the Nativity Feast. But however it is celebrated, it can be a really meaningful way to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
New Advent Traditions
This year, we’re going to start what I hope will be a lasting family tradition in our home: we’re going to mark Advent with a Jesse Tree! The idea of a Jesse Tree comes from Isaiah 11:1, in which the Hebrew prophet, Isaiah, prophesied that there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. Jesse was the father of King David, the greatest king of Israel, of whom Christians believe Jesus is a direct descendant… the branch God promised that would grow from Jesse’s family tree. Each day during Advent, the kids will put a special symbolic ornament on a little tree, and together we will read corresponding verses from the Bible to remind us of God’s plan and faithfulness to fulfill His perfect promises.
Because we’ve never done a Jesse Tree before, I’ve taken some time to do some research and plan out what this will look like in our home this year. So here’s what we’ll be doing, along with some other ideas, resources and links to get you started.
Jesse Trees & Ornaments
There are so many different kinds of trees and ornaments out there… it really just comes down to what you’d like to do! I found this one on Amazon, which really appealed to me because it comes with a set of ornaments, and won’t take up any more precious space in our apartment. We can hang it on the wall where we can all see it, and fasten one ornament onto it each day during the 25 days leading up to Christmas. But you can do whatever works for you! Some folks add the symbolic ornaments to their main Christmas trees, or may make a little tree out of felt. Similarly, ornaments can be purchased, homemade out of various materials, or even colored and cut out! Pinterest is also a great place to look for ornament ideas.
Daily Advent Readings
A couple of friends have highly recommended Ann Voskamp’s book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. It’s a stunning book that uses art and story to lead children through each story of Jesus’ family tree. Her style typically isn’t my speed, but I’m looking forward to checking it out and using it in a way that best suits our family. It’s got 25 different readings, so it’s perfect for starting on December 1st, and the images line up with the traditional Jesse Tree symbols. Win-win.
The Jesus Storybook Bible, which made our family’s Top 10 favorite books list, is another wonderful book that can be used for daily Advent readings with kids. There are 24 stories leading up to the birth of Jesus, so you can read a story a day. The author, Sally Lloyd-Jones, shares some other creative Advent ideas that accompany her book here.
This little gem of a book is really good. The readings in Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room are a bit more contemplative and reflective than story, and it’s great for elementary through high school aged kids. It also includes a few hymns to sing aloud together.
And then, there’s this book: Loving My Actual Christmas. This is a book for the weary mama’s soul. It is not a traditional book of Advent readings, though it does include 4-weeks of daily readings about the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love; but it is more about recalibrating our expectations so that we can love our own real-life Christmas.
Finally, if you’re looking for something more traditional, here’s a list of 40 daily Jesse tree readings, which includes additional passages for the Twelve Days of Christmas. This list is simple, but very meaningful, and can be used on its own or in conjunction with any other readings you choose to incorporate into your celebration of Advent.
There are so many things to do to prepare for Christmas; but more important than the parties, gifts, decorations, and cookies are the time and space we set aside to anticipate the joy of His coming.
What are some of the ways that your family celebrates Advent? If you have any favorite readings, Nativity, or Jesse tree/ornament ideas, share them in the comments!