Traditions play a role in our family’s tapestry in dynamic dimensions.
As a traditions consultant for many years, I can share traditions for every holiday and celebration that you can think of, and most likely, many that would never cross your mind. Often, the traditions I share on here are just for fun, but this one plays a strong role in developing a spiritual heritage as well.
A forefront on the mantel of expectation each morning during the Christmas season has been our traditional Jesse Tree Advent family time.
The advent Jesse Tree seeks to tell the story of God’s redemptive plan for all the world through twenty five symbols from the Old and New Testament. The symbols trace the heritage of our Lord through the very beginning of creation right to the birth of Jesus.
There is a phrase that states, “The Old Testament conceals what the New Testament reveals.”
Seeing the blending of the two for this holiday season is priceless.
There are numerous people that have put their own twist on how they celebrate this season during advent by using the Jesse Tree, but with the word “Advent” meaning “coming”, the main focus is the same; a time of celebration and anticipation of the coming of our Savior.
Culturally, we put so much emphasis on Christmas day, but forget to prepare our hearts and focus on the “reason for the season.”
Our family begins the Jesse Tree tradition on December. 1 by placing the first symbol on the tree, and then we carve out a few family moments every day through Dec. 25.
“Do what?” I hear you ask?
“I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Simply put, each day, we put a Jesse Tree ornament on our little “Jesse Tree” that symbolizes some aspect of God’s plan for our lives. The Jesse Tree is given prominence at the center of our table. (This tree can be any kind of creation. I’ve had tiny “Charlie Brown” trees that we cut from our woods, but now we have been using a 2′ fake tree purchased from Michael’s Craft Store with a coupon.)
We have a short family devotional time with questions and answers, discussion and reading of the bible verses that focuses on the scripture for the day. Some families choose to sing the suggested songs from the book as well. For instance, day one starts at the very beginning of time – Creation and Day 25 ends with the baby Jesus in the manager. (Now, I know the story only begins there, and what a grand finale it will be.)
It’s a time that my children anticipate, and now that we are on our sixth year of going through the symbols, it is so neat to see how the kids slowly remember them from past years. I ask them each day if they remember from last year what the ornament signifies, and it’s amazing to hear the truths revealed. (Now, our oldest sons may not anticipate it as much as they did in the past, but I can guarantee that when they look back on poignant childhood memories, this will definitely be one sealed in their hearts. I take comfort in that fact, as I may “force” the bonding every once in awhile. ;))
A few years back, I organized a Jesse Tree ornament exchange, and you can see below my box holding each precious ornament. Each one is placed in a ziplock bag with a slip of paper that states the day, the symbol and the person who made the ornament, since after this many years, it’s so easy to forget.
Since the Jesse Tree is focused on twenty five symbols, which we do in the form of ornaments, I invited women to each make one hand made ornament (twenty four times over, plus one for themselves) for an ornament exchange.
Some people choose to do two ornaments since they wanted them for multiple children. My desire is to send one set with each of my children when they launch into adulthood on their own. I have made three sets so far, with two more to do. I ran out of time this year, but guess what I will be organizing next year – preferably in the summer?
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to prepare your hearts for this Christmas season, it’s just a matter of taking the time to slow down enough to focus on this most amazing Savior.
(One of my photo card has pictures of all 25 ornaments with the different variations that friends have made over the years. I plan on organizing another Jesse Tree ornament exchange this year and can explain in detail how we organize our exchange – simple style.
Three years ago, our family had the privilege of making the cross ornament. There would be so many easy ways to have done 25 of these, but I wanted our children to participate and be fully involved. They gathered sticks from our woods, and carved each one. What a precious time around the table we had in making these. (And yes, finished at 1:00 am the morning of the exchange. ;)).
(Our first Jesse Tree. This size is perfect until about day 18, and then it’s crowded. I’ve graduated to a slightly bigger one now, which keep in the middle of our kitchen table..)
The book we have used over the years is The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas . You can get it from any book store or on-line.
“Each devotional story is paired with a representative symbol that traces the heritage of Jesus…such as a lamb, a dove, a rainbow, a heart, a star, etc.
Children and their parents can utilize the symbolic line art printed with each daily devotion to craft meaningful ornaments.
These symbols coincide with the prayers, a memory verses, questions for children, and songs found in the devotions for that day.
Finally, on Christmas day, your tree will be filled with reminders of 25 Bible stories that led up to Christ’s birth.”
I’ve now switched to my friend, Ann’s new advent book,Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas ,
specifically for families. It’s not only beautiful, but written this year with her own kids (and all of ours) in mind. It’s based off her book, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas  which is incredibly powerful. Reading them both hand in hand this holiday season will be life changing for your family.
I now have five sets of Jesse Tree ornaments for each of our children. When they begin their life independent from us, whether that be married or just living completely on their own, they will each receive a set for their own family’s tradition. Each set is so different and it’s fun to see all the creative ways that people interpret their ornament for the exchange.
This was the most recent ornament exchange that took place last week. What I love about this one was that everyone decided to do it at the last minute, and still the ornaments turned out wonderfully. Most of them were more simple than past years that I have participated, but honestly, the pressure was removed and they are still beautiful.
I don’t have all of them represented, but if you glance at all the pictures above, you should be able to see nearly each day somewhere in the pictures.
This past exchange, we set up a simple google doc that everyone could edit, and each person went in and picked the ornaments that they wanted to make (x 25). It was first come, first serve, so the procrastinators might have gotten stuck with the trickier ones (or the ones which required a bit more crafty talent.)
We sent out directions and politely mentioned the fact that while it’s fun to do all these ornaments with our children, these are going to be ornaments that we hand down, hopefully, from generation to generation, so keep that in mind.
Here’s the PDF of the Jesse Tree ornament labels that we used to include in each baggie. It’s a great way to remember which ornament is for which day. Jesse Tree Ornament labels 
In past years, I requested a more detailed label with the scripture, symbol and who made it, because ten years from now, it’s wonderful to remember some of the friends who participated, some of which you haven’t seen in years. (Trust me, you will not remember who made what, even next Christmas.) A few of the ladies saw this post and knew that’s how I did it, so they came prepared.
Enjoy this special tradition. It can be a simple with just paper ornaments you color with your children each day or detailed heirloom quality handmade ornaments.
The goal: to point your month towards the Savior.
Never claiming to be a sculptor, my first few tries looked more like a dog, but by the end, we all did and they were adorable. It was a good lesson that even if you can’t get 25 ladies to each do one ornament (or less if some do 2-3), just go ahead with the exchange anyhow and you can fill in the few that aren’t made.