"Build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children." - John Piper
noun The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important: the advent of the computer.
Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays. During the entire month of November, there is gratitude and thankfulness around every corner. In our home, we love our tradition of a Thankful Tree, displayed prominently on our dining room table. It's made out of sticks from the neighborhood and popcorn kernels and punched out scrapbook paper circles. We add our bits of gratitude to it all month long:
It helps ready our hearts in the most perfect way for the next season: Advent.
the coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. From now until Christmas, we will throw ourselves fully into marveling together as a family at the coming arrival of Jesus. Looking back toward the time His people awaited His first arrival. Looking ahead to when we will see His second coming. Spurgeon said God's people have always been a waiting people, and isn't that just so? As we wait for Christmas morning, we have some traditions that help us remember who God is, what He's done, and who we are in light of that.
A Jesse Tree is a way of telling the story of God's plan from the beginning of time to redeem His people by sending a Savior. The name is taken from Isaiah 11:1, in which Jesus is referred to as a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse, the father of David. The tree itself is nothing fancy: we just use a small artificial tree. Each day, we read a story from Scripture, beginning with Genesis 1, and talk about how it points us toward Jesus. Then we hang a corresponding ornament on the tree. The ornaments on the Jesse tree tell of God's salvation plan all throughout the Bible. For years, our ornaments have been very simple paper ones. Do a quick google search for "free printable jesse tree ornaments" and you'll find lots of good ones. We have always used Ann Voskamp's printable ornaments and devotional: click here for a pdf of the ornaments and devotional. I really like this one because I could read the devotion she wrote in advance and felt prepared to teach my children about what we were reading. Here's a link to another one I found just this week: click here. This year, we are looking forward to using a new set of ornaments! My friend Mindy lives in California, and when she decided to lead a group for a Jesse Tree project, she included me! We did an ornament exchange, and now we have 24 gorgeous handmade ornaments.
Most years, we have used The Jesus Storybook Bible for our daily readings. This version has been so helpful for our entire family as we've learned how the entire Bible points to Jesus. Instead of teaching Scripture as segmented stories to our children, we've learned together through this amazing storybook Bible, that Jesus IS the story! However, we just finished reading through that one again as a family this past month, so we are going to use the DK Children's Illustrated Bible this year just to change it up. I like it because it uses mostly Biblical wording, and I am comfortable now with being able to tie what we're reading in Scripture to what it's teaching us about Jesus and God's salvation plan for us.
December 2: put up the Jesse Tree together.
December 3 ~ Isaiah 11:1-3
the stump of Jesse, the father of David
December 4 ~ Creation
Genesis 1 and 2
December 5 ~ The Fall
December 6 ~ Noah
December 7 ~ God's covenant with Abraham
Genesis 11-13, 15
December 8 ~ Offering of Isaac
December 4 ~ Jacob's dream
Genesis 25, 27-28
December 10 ~ Joseph
December 11 ~ Passover
December 12 ~ Ten Commandments
December 13 ~ Joshua at Jericho
December 14 ~ Ruth & Boaz
December 15 ~ King David
1 Samuel 16, 11 Samuel 5-6
December 6 ~ Elijah and the fire
1 Kings 18
December 17 ~ Isaiah and the prophecies
Isaiah 6, 35, 40
December 18 ~ Daniel
Daniel 1-3, 5-6
December 19 ~ Esther
December 20 ~ Jonah
December 21 ~ Minor prophets
No scripture - people waited in years of darkness and silence for the coming Light.
December 22 ~ John the Baptist
Luke 1 and 3
December 23 ~ Mary & Joseph
December 24 ~ waiting
No ornament. Reread Luke 1.
December 25 ~ Christ is born!
Matthew 1 and Luke 2
Also on December 25 ~ God's announcement
December 26 ~ Wise Men
I cherish our Jesse Tree, and the time we spend each day focusing on the birth of Christ through the Old Testament.
Our children declare our Advent house their favorite Christmas tradition:
I found this cute little house on clearance at Target one year, with an extra discount because of a banged up corner. Inside each little door, I put a piece of chocolate for each of the children, and a little slip of paper with a special activity we will do that day. Some of the activities are things that we are doing anyway: going to a Christmas parade, visiting a live Nativity, watching a Christmas movie and drinking hot chocolate. I can look at my calendar and fill in those days easily. Then I fill the rest of the days with acts of kindness and things that focus on others: taking cookies to our neighbors, taping quarters to vending machines, surprising their teachers with their favorite cup of coffee, choosing something from the Samaritan's Purse catalog to order, etc. I use this as much as possible to take the focus off of us and put it on loving those around us during this season.
The kids wake up each morning and race to that little house, to open the little door and see what the days holds. and to eat chocolate before breakfast, of course.
Jotham's Journeyis an advent storybook that friends introduced us to last year. It was still over Tucker's head last year, but Lana loved it, and it helps build our excitement in the days leading up to Christmas. It's a great read-aloud for families with children of all ages. It follows a little boy through Israel, with lots of adventure and plenty of historical facts. I'd like to light advent candles this year as we read, but advent wreaths are pretty expensive.
What about Santa?
From Lana's first Christmas, we were thinking and talking about how to handle Santa. Opinions vary wildly on what role the ol Jolly guy should play in the Christmas season for believers. After lots of prayer and discussion, here's where we've landed: we don't "do" Santa Clause (for reasons you can read more about here), but we don't demonize him, either. We choose to spend most of our thoughts and energy and words and time and devotion on Jesus during December, just as we want to do every other day and month of the year. Here are a couple of really super articles that explain our reasoning, in words far better than I could come up with: Why We Don't "Do" Santa (It's Not What You Think) Who Needs Santa When You've Got Jesus?
I've read blog after blog after blog already this year, with parents lamenting how much our children already have, and how we don't want our children to become entitled. Yet even those of us with the best of intentions end up over-doing it when it comes to buying gifts for our children. I'm speaking from experience: every year, we have intended to keep things small, and every year, we end up with too much. We spend so much of our time and energy during advent helping our children focus on Christ, and then it's such a letdown on Christmas morning when Jesus gets lost in a blur of gifts and paper and toys. Of course, like all parents, we want to give our children good gifts, and we want to celebrate this season of the Giver of Life in a way that honors Him and blesses our children. This year, we're trying something new. Each person in our family, Dan & I included, will receive a gift for each of these categories: something you want something you need something to wear something to read something to give For our stockings, we will have a few small items inside, but we are starting a new tradition with those, also. On the table near the fireplace where the stockings are hung, I am going to put a basket with red and green paper, and a bucket of pencils and pens. We will write notes to each other throughout the month of December and put them in each other's stockings, almost like a mailbox, so that when we look in our stockings Christmas morning, there will be a few small happies, but they will be mostly filled with our love and words to each other. Every year, I realize that I don't get close to capturing the true wonder of Advent. It is our great hope that each year, though, we do a little better. Next year, we will add the celebration of Saint Nicholas to our advent calendar (on December 6), and I am hopeful that we will also add this breathtaking advent wreath as a visual reminder of our waiting.
“Celebrate God all day, every day.
I mean, revel in Him!
Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side,