Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday: These three days seem to officially usher in the start of the Christmas season, even though those early Christmas ribbons were already shelved alongside Halloween costumes back in October. Amid the pressure of the season, we can too easily become wrapped up in gifts and goodies, inviting a stress that can make one feel anything but cheery.
Nestled between binge buying and bargain hunting, the Church invites Catholics to step back from the secular holiday and focus on the season we are actually entering into: the season of Advent.
Spiritually immersing ourselves in the season of Advent can be a challenge, especially for young kids already squirming in their classroom chairs in anticipation of Christmas break and Santa’s visit. One long-held tradition that invites families, particularly young children, to enter into this season of Advent, is that of the Jesse tree.
The Jesse tree invites kids to prepare for Christ’s coming in a hands-on and engaging way. It involves crafts and it tells a story. The Jesse tree, named after the father of King David in the Old Testament, walks children and adults alike through salvation history, telling one Scripture story each day starting with the story of creation. Each day, participants make an ornament corresponding to that day’s story to hang on the tree.
Five-year-old Anthony Krakowski of South Bend, along with his little brothers — Kolbe, David and baby Jacob — is excited to start his Jesse tree this Advent. “I like making the decorations. I learn about Jesus, how He was born on Christmas, how shepherds came and how He was given gifts,” he shared.
For the Krakowski family, the Jesse tree tradition takes place during breakfast each morning. Christa, Anthony’s mom, shares that she would read the day’s Bible story to her boys over breakfast. The boys listen to stories from Celebrating Advent with the Jesse tree, a book by Father Jude Winkler, OFM. Then they watch a short video clip that corresponds with the story of the day. The video clip comes from Holy Heroes Advent Adventures, an online program that provides free Catholic videos, printables and crafts each day of Advent.
After breakfast, it’s arts and crafts time. The boys color their printed Jesse tree ornaments, which depict an image representing the story for that day. These are then hung on the Jesse tree.
As for the tree, Christa shared that “We made a very simple Jesse tree to hang our ornaments on by cutting a small branch from the bottom of our Christmas tree and placing it in a vase on top of our hutch next to our nativity set.”
This is just one family’s way of entering into Advent by participating in the Jesse tree tradition. Ornaments can be made out of whatever material kids chose. For example, older kids may prefer using clay or scouring the house for materials to recycle. Some families have a small, fake Christmas tree they use each year. Regardless, the Jesse tree tradition invites families to step back from the consumerism of the secular holiday and focus on the true meaning of the season: preparing for God’s ultimate gift of the world — his Son.
For those interested in starting a Jesse tree tradition with their family, a variety of resources are available — such as the book the Krakowski’s use and the free online resources from Holy Heroes. A quick Internet search will reveal a schedule of scripture readings, craft projects for ornaments and more.
Christa shares that she likes the gentle approach the Jesse tree uses to teach children and adults alike about salvation history as it leads up to Christ’s birth. “The Jesse tree tradition is a beautiful way to help prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of Christmas and to contemplate all that God ordained before He sent His Son into the world to take on flesh.”
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