December 1

Kicking Off Advent



Happy Advent!

A few years ago started to be more and more unhappy with the way our family spent Advent. For the most part, we did nothing.

We might bring out the ol’ Advent candles, but then what? We’d light them while we ate, but again, then what?

Jennifer and I both got increasingly more frustrated with each year.

We’d spend so much time buying presents and getting ready for the gift exchange that we never stopped to try to prepare ourselves spiritually.

Last year I feel like we finally started to “get it.”

Struggling for a way to help our kids focus more on Christ than on gifts, we researched family activities and committed to actually doing them, or at least one of them.

At one point we stumbled upon the practice of the Jesse Tree, which is something I faintly remember from my Catholic grade school days, but wasn’t something we ever did as a family during Advent. I remember sitting around the dining room table going over readings and prayers with my family, but even then, Advent didn’t really sink in for me. We wanted to find a way to get our kids excited about Advent.

So we decided that we’d give it a shot. And instead of having a decorated Christmas tree during Advent, we’d put up the tree but leave it empty and treat it as a Jesse Tree, adding a homemade ornament each day to teach the kids more about the Bible, as well as the history and lineage of Jesus.

So by using a Jesse Tree, each day we can tell the kids a little bit of the story of God’s salvation plan for us, from creation and throughout the Old Testament, to the coming of the Messiah.

The name of “The Jesse Tree” comes from Isiah 11:1, which reads, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.”

During each day of Advent, we add an ornament to the tree that are somehow symbolic of the stories and prophecies of the coming of Christ. Since Advent started so late in November this year, we did three ornaments last night to catch up.

Last year we didn’t think of this until a week into Advent, so we did a whole week’s worth in the first few days so we’d be up to speed.

Last night we added ornaments with a dove, apple, and an ark. These represented the early stories from the book of Genesis and God’s first promises to man.

The kids will all get turns hanging ornaments or blowing out the candles each day, which is enough to get them excited.

This year, Jennifer wanted to kick it up a notch.

Since we recently redecorated the living room, we’re not quite sure where to put our Christmas tree this year. We had a smaller decorative tree, and I suggested that we just use that for the Jesse Tree, but something about it was bugging Jennifer.

After doing more research yesterday, she determined that the tree shouldn’t have any leaves, because it is supposed to come alive over time, just like our faith lives do.

Eventually, she came up with the idea to create her own tree. Using brown packing paper, she cut out a huge outline of a tree with spots where each ornament will eventually be attached. Then she used velcro tags on the back of each ornament, along with a piece of velcro on the tree.

The kids seemed to get into it last night, and enjoyed hanging the first ornaments.

If you want to do something similar, the printable ornaments, as well as daily reflections, can be found on the website of the Diocese of Erie from their Faith Magazine. They are from 2007, so you’ll have to modify the dates, but it worked great for kicking off Advent for our kids.

How are you going to make this a great Advent?

About the author 


Greg is married to Jennifer. They've got five kids.

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  • @Heather – I just made this one out of brown paper. I didn’t buy anything but some basic arts and crafts supplies like “sticky back” velcro, etc. It took a while to get the tree design drawn out, but I’m happy with the final look of it. You should totally try it! You could also do easier variations as well.. like using an Advent calendar. If you search for it on Google, you’ll find tons of choices. Have fun with it!

  • I too missed observing Advent. We’re pretty much empty nesters now, so I put together something that I could do. For one thing, I splurged on a new, really nice Advent wreath. And now, each morning (in imitation of my husband, who has been doing this, sans Advent wreath, for some time), I light a candle, read the prayer for the Advent wreath and read the daily readings, singing the responsorial psalm. It’s so nice to take out 15 minutes and reflect on the daily readings.

  • Done… printed and ready to go tonight. We made a construction paper wreath and hung it up and have paper fire to add each Sunday. We read a reflection about Paul… but that was a bit much for the 5 year old.

    I’m excited to add this to our Advent.

    I miss you guys!!!


  • THANK YOU so much for posting this. I have been inspired to try out the Jesse Tree for our two girls (ages 4 and 2) by your example. I’m so excited to start new Advent traditions that hopefully will last for years to come…. God Bless!

  • Jenni here,

    We’re doing a Jesse tree for the first time this year. I felt the same way (disillusioned with the secular gift giving emphasis, etc.) It has been a struggle in the past to keep the focus on Christ’s birth, even with the creche and Fontanini nativity but I am looking forward to adopting the Jesse tree and Advent wreath. Also, we wait until the 3rd Sun. in Advent (after Cody’s birthday on Dec. 16) to put up the bulk of our Christmas decorations. Thank you for sharing and encouraging all of us! Prayers…

  • How’s this for a different approach to Advent? We bought a 2009 Honda Pilot SUV over the weekend. It has XM Satellite on it — and on my way home from Mass this morning, I got to (re)join Greg and Jennifer by listening to the program. Sounded great. A little while later, wife Dee listened to you as she drove over to the fitness center. Congrats and best on your (still) new endeavor! Blessings. Deacon Tom

    ps: A new column posted on the Catholic Family site has some Advent practice words on it.

  • This year have an Advent wreath. I have a booklet w/readings for every day of Advent. When I come home from work, I have been praying my Liturgy of the Hours Evening Prayer first before turning on the TV. Beginning with 1st Sunday of Advent, I also light my wreath during this time and read my reflection. I live alone so finding quiet is no harder than not turning on the TV. I downloaded a PDF file with Jesse Tree ornaments that I could print out. I have not done anything with them as yet.

  • I love your photos of the kids participating with Advent. I hope my family will prepare for Advent in a similar way. With being married for 9 years and my husband now a catholic for the past few years, we sometimes struggle in what our Advent traditions/preparation will be each year. I only just put up our wreath today(good idea with the large/wide candles). I grew up reciting an advent prayer(Hail and Blessed is the hour…) repeating it 15 times each night of advent beginning November 30th. My mother found a printed copy last year, so tonight i finally read it once after dinner. My insightful two year old reached for the prayer card after i finished. It took me a second to realize he wanted his turn to say the prayer, so he repeated the prayer after me a few words at a time. We didn’t finish the 15 times tonight, but perhaps it’s a beginning.
    Thank you for asking. My husband usually tunes into your show and I’ve watched a handful of the videos. I enjoy hearing what you guys are up to via twitter. Please keep up your inspiring work.

  • Our family just started a Jesse Tree as well.

    We used ornament designs off the web, copied them onto Shrinky-Dink paper and had our boys color them. Then we cut holes and baked them. The boys really enjoyed that.

    After we lit the advent wreath, we had out 7yo read the story of creation from his children’s Bible. We then hung the first ornament on the branch that had fallen off our crepe myrtle tree that we had placed in a pot.

    The funny part is my wife worked all week on preparing this project and out son said nothing. After we started last night, he said first is creation and then Adam and Eve and then . . . They had been doing this in his class at school and he never said a word about it.

  • Check out the Holy Heroes Advent Adventure and you’ll see a totally free, easy to handle Advent journey, a day at a time–which brings in the whole family while Mom doesn’t have to do a thing! Every day you get an email which links to a short video that teaches something about Advent and a way to prepare yourself for Christmas, then you can pray a “decade-a-day” with an audio Scriptural Rosary (with children leading it), then print out coloring pages, crosswords and word searches, a quiz every day, and the Jesse tree Scripture and how to make your own ornament. Lots of other things like blessings for the Advent Wreath and all the audio and video scripts.

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