Once upon a time, I would rush to start celebrating the “Christmas Season” as soon as Santa crossed into Herald Square. I’d start playing Christmas music and decorating for Christmas, soaking in every moment I could of the Christmas Spirit. I would revel in the cheeriness of people I met as I went throughout my days and take special care to be particularly kind to people in stores as I went about shopping for my family and friends. One of my favorite things to do is to sit in my living room in the evenings and relax in the glow of our lit-up Christmas tree.
Eventually, I gained an understanding that we needed to observe Advent, but I struggled with how to do that beyond lighting candles on an Advent wreath. I stumbled on the idea of a Jesse Tree, and fell in love with the idea. My children were still pretty young — both under 8, if I recall correctly — and we made paper ornaments that the girls could color and hang on a bare branch that would serve as our tree. Later, we made salt dough ornaments and the girls painted them, which was nicer, and we started using our Christmas tree as our Jesse Tree. We’d leave the tree bare (except for the lights, which are pre-strung) and add an ornament each day. On the third Sunday of Advent, we’d decorate the entire house (because I can’t stand it anymore!) and start playing Christmas music ALL. THE. TIME!
For our family, the Jesse Tree was a way to slow down the Christmas craziness that our society is engaged in earlier and earlier every year and really prepare ourselves for the coming of the Savior. We read each night about the People of God who yearned for their Messiah, and we contemplate the hundreds of years they waited for the little Baby in the manger. When my girls were young, it was a way to help them understand what we’re really celebrating on Christmas morning. It’s not the presents or time together as a family, but the Holy Family where Love Himself came to live. It’s the Christ Child, newborn and laid in a feeding trough. It’s God as a tiny, helpless infant, living a regular life and experiencing everything we experience as He shows us how to love each other and how to find Him.
As magical as Christmas is, there’s a beauty and magic to Advent. Advent is the antidote to the consumerism we’re bombarded with every November and December. Advent is the way to reconnect with the God Who loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to live and die for us. Advent is that quiet we need — quiet to contemplate and recharge and get ourselves ready for when the real celebration begins on December 25. This year, take some time to slow down and celebrate Advent. Read the Jessse Tree readings each night, even if you don’t have a tree or ornaments. Talk with your children about how the Chosen People were waiting for Jesus, just like we wait for Christmas morning. Reclaim the season for what it’s supposed to be: a time of quiet anticipation of the greatest gift anyone has ever received.
You can find all of the Jesse Tree readings and resources on this page.