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.
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.
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?