The Jesse Tree and Advent Calendar Ideas

As a way to continue the conversation started over the last two days, here is the last installment in ideas for ways to celebrate Advent and the weeks leading up to Christmas.

This year, due to an imposed deadline thanks to my MOPS group, I got on the ball with something I’ve been toying with for awhile—a Jesse Tree.  Matt and I first learned about the concept of a Jesse Tree from a workshop we attended at Montreat a year and a half ago.  We were inspired by the approach the workshop leader, Hugh Donnelly, took with approaching the seasons of the church year and faith development with his children and with his congregation.  He and his wife have created a seasonal table that gives a chance for their children to interact, notice and name the seasons as the year unfolds and his amazing wife MADE the Jesse Tree ornaments from scratch.  Holy COW!  Here’s a peek…

Thanks to the amazing Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, we are going to try doing a Jesse Tree this year…..without having to make the ornaments ourselves!  She describes that like a tree with deep roots, the story of our faith is one filled with a deep history from Creation all the way to Bethlehem (and beyond!).  It is named after Jesse, the father of David who was the first in the royal line eventually leading to Jesus’ birth. In Isaiah, the prophet wrote, A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”  The Jesse tree provides a way, through Advent, to hear the story from David to the coming Messiah, each day, pointing to the coming promise and gift of God in Jesus.  Here is the link for the PDF to download the devotionals, ornaments and instructions.  It’s EIGHTY pages, so be prepared (but well worth the ink!).

Yesterday, I also promised to include a list of some fun things to include in a daily Advent calendar—great activities to foster family connection, slowing down, creativity and fun.  At the end of this post, you’ll see my shout outs for all of these great ideas.

Tons of Ideas for Daily Advent Activities

  • Watch It’s a Wonderful Life, make spiced cider.
  • Exchange gifts
  • Make Christmas Cookies for friends.
  • Find Mistletoe, hang it in our house and kiss under it.
  • Address and mail Christmas cards
  • Go to a music store and pick out one new Christmas CD. (Sufjan will change your life!)
  • Go to The Nutcracker
  • Go to a Handel’s Messiah Sing Along
  • Make Thick Hot Chocolate and Homemade Marshmallows
  • Host a Christmas Sweater Party
  • Put up a ribbon sash for Christmas cards
  • Donate canned goods
  • Give neighbors a present
  • Put up a wreath
  • Make a popcorn garland
  • Make hot chocolate and read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
  • Sing (or listen) to favorite Christmas songs
  • Drive around to see neighborhood lights
  • Go out and see public light display
  • Make a family traditional dessert (my father-in-law, Kerry, holding last Christmas’ amazing brunch sweet treat which will become my new “family traditional dessert!….Ina Garten’s Easy Sticky Buns!!!  YUMMMM!!!)
  • Eat out at a festive restaurant
  • Go to a seasonal movie
  • Tell stories of childhood Christmas around the fire
  • Have a romantic candlelit dinner (picnic by the Christmas tree!)
  • Make decorative sugar cookies
  • Sign up to purchase gifts for a needy child
  • Host a Christmas dessert party
  • Write out a Christ-centered goal to start early for the New Year
  • Have a movie party (classic Christmas clips)
  • Go to a Christmas Concert
  • Attend City tree lighting event
  • Have a full traditional breakfast while listening to Christmas music
  • Make paper snowflakes & eat “snowflakes” (yogurt covered pretzels)
  • Get Christmas tree as a family (or put up the fake one, like we do!)
  • Count all the money in your child’s piggy bank and use it to buy sock for the homeless
  • String snowflakes into a garland in kid’s room
  • Put shoes outside of child’s room at bedtime for St. Nicholas Day, Dec 6th and then fill the shoes with treats
  • Read the story of St. Nicholas and draw a picture for someone elderly or sick
  • Make salt dough ornaments for the tree
  • Make peppermint hot chocolate and read Christmas books
  • Make Christmas art project
  • Make a gingerbread house and/or man

  • Go to a Living Nativity
  • Read the Christmas story (kid’s version) & color a picture of the nativity
  • Make wrapping paper (using stamps or markers on white paper or large butcher paper)
  • Go on an adventure with someone special or have a fun grandparent playdate (Playing–or feeling?!?!–Aggravation with my parents)
  • Draw on the windows (use Crayola window markers!)  
  • Call grandparents and sing a Christmas song
  • Make popcorn balls (or if it’s been a busy day, just popcorn) and watch a Christmas movie
  • Act out the Christmas story at home
  • Go to Zoo Lights in Oakland or the Fantasy of Lights at Vasona Park in Los Gatos
  • Read Christmas stories & have snacktime by the Christmas tree
  • Go to Fenton’s in Oakland/Palo Alto Creamery for Peppermint Ice Cream
  • Open Christmas PJs!
  • Decorate your tree(Taken a few years ago….Alex, in footie pjs, swimming trunks, sunglasses and regular glasses, eyeing the tree.  Notice the placement of ornaments??  Guessing this will be our reality again this year with a mobile grabber toddler!)
  • Shop for gifts for other children
  • Unwrap a Christmas book to read (or better yet….get Grandma to record herself READING the Christmas story!)
  • Have hot cocoa and cookies with our neighbors (Neighborhood Service Project)
  • Open a special ornament and put in on the tree
  • Write a letter to Santa &/or the reindeer
  • Go to the Christmas party at church
  • Go sledding or ice skating
  • Shop for a gift or treats for child’s preschool party
  • Make an Advent Wreath
  • Eat snowman poop!  (seriously….GO TO THIS POST and read more about Bernard the Christmas Elf.  Tara Whitney has a phenomenal blog and the most hilarious approach to the traditional Advent calendar!!)
  • If you live near San Jose, Christmas in the Park!

It can be easy to get overwhelmed with too many options, but this list is meant only to give you ideas!  Choose parts that work for you and your family.   Most years, we manage to light one of the four Advent candles.  Sundays get busy and we forget to slow down.  Rather than stressing out, I’m just choosing to let it go instead.  Advent is all about waiting and anticipating Christ’s birth with hope….so enter in to this season and bring your kids along too.  I can’t wait to hear about how it unfolds!  Please add comments to the comments section with additional ideas or resources you have….would love to add to the list!

A huge thanks to my friend, Susannah, who gave me a good portion of these ideas from her post on Advent last year.  Susannah also alerted her readers to another post on the blog, Oh Happy Day, which added more ideas to the list.  Another set of ideas came from here.  Tara, at The Organic Sister had another wonderful list.  And finally, all the amazing, local folks who helped me come up with local things to do–thank you!!!!!

10 thoughts on “The Jesse Tree and Advent Calendar Ideas

  1. Do you know what Hugh Donnelly’s wife made their Jesse Tree ornaments from? Any idea where I could see more pics of their ornaments or find out more about how they were made? Thank you!

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