A few years ago, I'd heard about a tradition called the Jesse Tree. It seemed like a neat idea: each night during December, you read a bit about our salvation history, working your way through the Old Testament, and see how God worked throughout history from Creation through the Fall and up until Christ came into the world. And each day, after reading your Scripture, a child could hang an ornament on the tree.
Really, it's a beautiful thing. And it really reinforces the idea that at no time was God absent from our lives. At no time did He forget His promise to Adam and Eve: that one day, Someone would come to set the world to rights again and redeem mankind.
It's something that can get lost in the whole Christmas preparation. Goodness knows it's tough to even focus on the true meaning of Advent when we have Christmas trees up in stores on November 1 and Thanksgiving decorations on clearance before November 10. Really, Advent has been completely lost to the greater part of our culture. We move from Thanksgiving to Christmas season.
But Catholics ought to know better. And, if we're paying attention to our readings - daily or Sunday-only - we'll be reminded of the fact that we are about to enter Advent, the time we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. Not just as a Babe in the manger, but at the end of time. Thus, our readings focus on the Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.
Doesn't quite jive with "Jimgle Bells," does it?
But Advent is important. Advent is the time when we take stock of ourselves and try to make ourselves presentable to the King. We ought to be paring back, focusing on what's important: Christ's coming. Because we don't know when He's coming back, but we need to be ready. We're going to hear Jesus tell us that in Noah's day, there was eating, drinking, and merry-making among the people who were about to be wiped out. We're going to hear John the Baptist warn us to repent, to avoid imitating the brood of vipers who rest easy, thinking their salvation is secure without any more effort than calling themselves children of Abraham. Then we'll hear Jesus praise John the Baptist, and call us to look to the Old Testament prophecies to see the foretelling of His coming. And, finally, we'll hear of Joseph's obedience to the Lord - and of his trust in God's providence.
Funny, but until this moment, I hadn't thought to look at all of Advent's readings at once that way. But look at that message!
Prepare, for Christ is coming. Judgement will be upon you when you least expect it. Do not think that just because you sit in that pew every Sunday you're safe. Examine your life and repent! None of this is new information: the Scriptures clearly tell us of God's plans for us all. And imitate Joseph, humble and obedient to God, even when he didn't understand the entire plan. Take Jesus into your heart as your own, just as St. Joseph did.
This is a great reminder for adults. But for children, how do we help them focus on the real meaning of Advent? How do we help them prepare properly for Christmas?
The Jesse Tree has been our answer to this dilemma.
There are plenty of different sites for Jesse Tree activities, and the readings can vary from place to place. The important thing is that they all do focus on the preparations God made for His people for the coming of the Savior. Symbols, too, can vary. Each ornament tends to be a symbol of the reading for that day. Our family uses this site's information for our readings, and the girls chose a symbol for each reading from the list given there. We made bake-able play-dough so they could create their own ornaments, as well. (Originally, we used a branch and paper ornaments, but I could see that they wouldn't last very long.)
For the tree, I set up our Christmas tree, which is pre-lit, and put absolutely nothing on it. Each evening, one of the girls reads the verse and the other hangs an ornament up. And, slowly, the tree starts to fill up. (We add no other decorations until Gaudete Sunday, which is when the whole house gets the Christmas treatment.)
Because of these readings each night, the girls have begun to see the connection between the Old and New Testaments. And they stop and contemplate God's mercy each evening. It's like an antidote to the rest of the world, who all seem to be rushing at Christmas at breakneck speed and who will throw the whole thing out on December 26.
Which, incidentally, is only the second day of Christmas. But that's a whole other post for you.
If you're looking to really get your family honed in on the true meaning of Christmas, then the Jesse Tree is for you. It doesn't need to be elaborate, either. You could make paper ornaments and a paper tree to hang on a wall or on your refrigerator and tape the symbols up. You can find pre-made ornaments online to print, color, and cut out. Some even come with reflections ready to print!
Or, if you want to come back here each day in December, you can find links to the readings we use, as well as a picture of the ornament my girls made for our tree. Posts will come up automatically throughout December.
Cross posted at Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering.
UPDATE: If you'd like the readings we use, all ready to go in a PDF file, just head over here and download away!