This year was our second year to celebrate Advent at home, using the symbols corresponding Scripture passages that go with the Jesse Tree. (Last year’s preparations here.)
What We Did
Instead of hanging the Jesse Tree ornaments on our regular Christmas tree like we did last year, we chose a special branch that we’ll use for years to come. It was an exciting field trip for our girls to go the the woods (or “the forest,” as Hana Kate refers to it) with Daddy and pick out and cut a large branch to use as our Jesse Tree Branch. My original plan was to sand, polish, and paint it, but we chose to stick with the somewhat rustic look. (Daniel carved off the extra bark and growth and sanded it lightly.) I had considered adding some screw hooks to this and hanging it from our ceiling, but it worked better to place it over two bookshelves, and in between we put a table with our Advent spiral.
We used the printable Jesse Tree ornaments that are still available for free via my friend Ashlyn’s company, Print Candee. (There are also boxes for the ornaments, but they have dates on them and the Advent start date changes each year.) I printed the ornaments and boxes on cardstock at our UPS store for less than $10 (under $1 if you only print the pages with the ornaments), and we made our ornaments very similarly to the tutorial here.
Hana Kate absolutely loved Advent last year, so we were surprised at how much more excited she was about it this year. Each night would would follow a similar routine:
- We would get everything ready after supper. Hana Kate loved cleaning up the living room and making sure the candles were organized and ready to go. I would prepare a special drink for the girls to drink during the devotional (“fizzy” = yummy sparkling apple cider), and make sure the ornament and candy (chocolate “world coins” from Trader Joe’s) were in the little box. If Hana Kate had already finished cleaning the room, she’d beg to help me with this.
- We would all sit on the couch and read the devotional. I wrote a brief devotional (for most nights) to go along with the ornament symbol and corresponding passage, and used the Jesse tree clipart here at the top of each page. If the story/passage corresponded to a Bible story included in The Big Picture Story Bible, we would follow along with it (or read directly from it). (Usually Daniel would paraphrase the longer passages, as well.) We usually closed in prayer, often a short prayer I wrote to correspond with the night’s specific theme.
- We would next open the Advent box, which contained a piece of candy for each of the girls and the ornament for the evening. This was so exciting for both girls, and they took turns for who opened the box each night. Eden would look for the candy first, and Hana Kate would look for the ornament first. By the end, Hana Kate’s excitement about the ornament finally rubbed off on Eden, and she occasionally began to get excited about the ornament before the candy. 😉 But it was always Hana Kate’s job to hang the ornament (not that Eden minded, she was busily eating her candy).
- Then we hung the ornament on the Jesse Tree branch and lit the candle for our Advent spiral.
- We closed by singing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,“ a traditional Advent song, and usually by request we would sing additional Christmas songs. Daniel played the guitar and sang from our Merry Christmas Songbook (a special gift from his parents and something he grew up singing Christmas songs from).
- Technically, we closed by having the girls blow out the candles. 🙂 As the number of candles grew, the diplomatic Hana Kate divided sides between herself and Eden, and they each blew out their respective sides (with occasional help). Amazingly no one’s hair caught on fire for the entire season of Advent and no one was seriously injured or otherwise maimed by the hot candle wax.
The Final Candle, The Final Ornament
On Christmas morning, we read the final (Christmas) story, opened the final ornament, and lit the final candle. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing that this time of waiting was over, and ending the cherished evenings spent together celebrating Advent and learning about how God’s people had waited for thousands of years for the promised “branch of Jesse” to arrive. And an interesting additional symbol for us: we had celebrated Advent each night in the darkness of our living room (a room with not so great lighting), but come Christmas morning it was nice to finally have some daylight! (Reminding us of part of the passage we’d read a few nights previously “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”)
The Advent and Jesse Tree Traditions
Advent can be celebrated in a variety of ways, from a national holiday tradition (such as in Germany) to a liturgically based celebration, to everything in between and including both. Our Advent celebration at home is a sort of combination of the two. Like the holiday tradition, we use it as a daily countdown that follows the Jesse Tree readings. We try to begin on the date Advent begins on the liturgical calendar (not just 25 days of counting down from December 1; there are more than 25 symbols), and try to keep the significance of each special Sunday’s candle-lighting meaning. (What we haven’t done yet is to use the specific colored candle for each Sunday; this is often done using an Advent wreath, rather than our Advent spiral.) Each day, we light one more candle, and focus more on the meaning of each daily Jesse tree ornament/symbol. That way, we celebrate each day individually rather than weekly.
The Jesse Tree’s significance comes from the prophecy found in Isaiah 11: ” A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit,” which incidentally is the first symbol (a stump and a branch) and passage (Isaiah 11:1-2) for the Jesse tree. Some churches do incorporate the Jesse tree and its symbols into their Advent celebrations, as well.
Overall, Advent is a season intended to help us think on the longing and waiting for Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes it, “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”