Friday, November 20, 2015

The Jesse Tree Advent Tradition

I have an awesome job. I work for our church helping encourage families to build faith at home all through the year. But I have to be honest, there are so many great ideas and resources that cross my desk, it's almost overwhelming, especially in a season like Advent! How do we simplify the choices, and make sure the most important thing stays the most important thing (loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength?) By mid-November it seems that everything gets caught up in the whirlwind of craziness that has become Americanized "Christmas." Ironically, there even seems to be an abundance of information on "reclaiming" and simplifying Christmas! Last year, our small group, which is made up of those actively parenting, chose ONE thing to focus on with building faith at home through Avent: the tradition of a Jesse Tree. Here's our story!

Step one: Set a realistic time frame! Two years ago we came across the great idea of a Jesse Tree ornament exchange. I'm not going to launch into a huge explanation of the concept here, because others have done a great job of that. We drew inspiration in particular from this blog:  We found the idea in about November, a bit late to get started. So we printed off some sweet, simple tags from this site: They go along with the Jesus Storybook Bible, a favorite resource many of us already use at home, so it was a natural way to test out the concept. We knew it wasn't realistic to plan a last minute, stress filled exchange, so we simplified! Several of us liked the idea and tradition so much, that we decided to try and organize an exchange for the next year.

Step two: Start early! We started chatting and planning in September. Yes, for some of us (ME!), it's almost painful to start making Advent plans in September, but it paid off! For the most part, we followed the model for the exchange on the Beauty and Bedlam site. On one of our small group nights, in early October, we explained the concept of the Jesse Tree ornament exchange and had those interested sign up. Most families signed up, but not all. We decided to make 18 sets of ornaments each, rather than 25. Several families volunteered to make more than one type of ornament, so we didn't need to end up with 25 kits. We set the exchange night for mid-November. Since there are 25 days of ornaments to use through Advent, ornament kits needed to be in people's hands before December 1. The result? Well, we had so much fun with the project, I just had to share it here!

A few of our ornament artists!

Step three: Plan a fun exchange! The night of the exchange, we set up two long tables, to set ornaments on. We had people bring their ornaments already packaged in plastic baggies with the scripture cards, which one of our amazing friends prepared and distributed in advance. Each family brought them in some type of container so all those little bags wouldn't slide around everywhere, and laid them out in day order, 1-25.

Friends set out their ornaments

I brought in a few small Christmas trees from home, and set them up near the tables. To pass out the ornaments, we had each family, starting with Day 1, present their ornament to the group and read one of the scriptures associated with their day.

Our ornament tables, days 1-25
For example, the Day 1 family showed us the cool globe they made and read Genesis 1:1 to the group. We then passed around the bowl holding the corresponding ornaments around the circle, each family taking one for their kit, and putting it in a larger bag. Most larger bags were as fancy as a plastic shopping bag.  We also hung one ornament on the little trees up front, and watched the collection grow through the evening. It actually felt a bit like Christmas morning- reading scripture and passing around special gifts! Lots of "oohs" and "aahs" as we checked out each other's unique creations. Since our group has a little too much fun sometimes, we made it through most of the scripture readings, but were pressed a bit for time to get it all done in under an hour.  However, I think we all got a good taste of what the tradition is about. We chose to keep our exchange night adults only, but kids could also be a part of the process. We wanted the surprise of opening each ornament with the kids to happen at home.

We set up our ornament days to go along with the readings in this book:

The Advent Jesse Tree book cover

Although the kits are complete with the scripture cards included with the ornaments, if families want to delve deeper with a devotional reading for each day, this book is an excellent resource. It has daily reading options for adults, or families with children.

Since not every day was taken, one friend prepared simple paper ornaments for those days. If families want to take on the project of completing that day with something more artistic in the future, they can. Otherwise, the simple paper ornaments will work well. We may update our slingshot and lion and lamb this year. One of our daughters loves to make just about anything (including animals) on her Rainbow Loom. We'll see what we come up with. One thing we emphasized: ornaments are meant to be special, not perfect! In fact, we encouraged families to work on them together, so many were crafted with kids along with their parents. Here are our creations!

Day 1: The Light in Creation (a globe or picture of the earth)

Day 2: The First Sin (an apple and a snake wrapped around it)

Day 3: Inside the Ark (an ark with a rainbow)

Day 4: The Call to Abram (a camel and a tent)

Day 5: Isaac and the Lamb (a lamb)

Day 6: Jacob's Ladder (a ladder)

Day 7: Joseph's Coat of Many Colors (a colorful coat)

Day 8: Moses and the Ten Commandments (a tablet with ten numbers)

Day 9: Canaan, the Promised Land of Blessings (a cluster of grapes)

Day 10: Ruth and Boaz (a sheaf of wheat)

Day 11: King David (a slingshot)

Day 12: Josiah Finds the Law (a scroll or Bible)

Day 13: Prophecy of Shoot from the Stump of Jesse (a stump with fresh shoot or green leaf)

Day 14: Prophecy of the Lion and Lamb Resting Together (lion and lamb)

Day 15: Prophecy of the Prince of Peace (a dove and a crown)

Day 16: Prophecy of a Gentle Shepherd (a lamb and a shepherd's staff)

Day 17: Prophecy of the Suffering Servant (a cross)

Day 18: Prophecy of the New Covenant (a heart with writing on it)

Day 19: Prophecy of Bethlehem (a Bethlehem town silhouette with star)

Day 20: The Exile (a fiery furnace)

Day 21: The Return to the Land (a brick wall)

Day 22: The Star (a star)

Day 23: The Light of the World (a candle or light)

Day 24: Angels Proclaiming the Coming of Christ (an angel)

Day 25: The Birth of Jesus (a baby in a manger or nativity scene)

Step Four: Enjoy the celebration of Advent at home! Each family took their kit home and went through them each day in December leading up to Christmas.....well, at least they aspired to go through them each day. At our house we had a few "cluster" days to catch up on ones we missed! We hung our ornaments in a special section of our normal Christmas tree, but there are many ways to display them. As with the ornaments, you're only limited by your imagination!

This year we're already looking forward to Advent and continuing this new Jesse Tree tradition. For our family and those in our church, it's become a special way to wait and prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth at Christmas! I hope we've inspired you, as you think about your own traditions. 

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