As my daughter grows, I’m always on the hunt for tips on how to make holidays Christ-centered and to use them for discipleship. Coming across Jennifer Love’s blog, Intentional Traditions, was such a blessing! I love her practical ideas for imparting theology and infusing faith into our favorite times of the year – especially Christmas. Today she’s sharing about her family’s longtime Jesse Tree tradition, including ways to make it toddler friendly.
My husband and I faced our firstborn’s “1st Christmas” with great excitement.
Here was our own chance to focus on what we wanted to focus on, spend our time as we wanted to, teach what we wanted to teach. And we both had a hunger for Christ to be more centric to this holiday intended to celebrate His birth.
Somehow though, often in our American traditions He can become lost in loving our friends and family and in doing good.
We had read Luke 2 on Christmas morning, but in order to foster a true anticipation for the “Long Expected Jesus” there had to be more build up to this day. There had to be more emphasis than an impatient prayer just before we tore into gifts.
And this was our chance to explore what that could mean.
Tracing Christ Across Scripture
There are many ways to build anticipation by counting down during December to Christmas day.
In our pursuit of a more drawn-out, intentional observation of Christmas, our family adopted the Jesse Tree tradition, which reads a Bible story each night, tracing the events of the Old Testament through the line of Jesse up to Jesus’ birth.
This stems from the Isaiah prophecy that a king would rule from the throne of David forever.
“Then a Shoot (the Messiah) will spring from the stock of Jesse [David’s father], And a Branch from his roots will bear fruit.” Isaiah 11:1 AMP
So from Creation to the Wise Men we learn about this King.
We found this to be such a meaningful way to celebrate that we created our own Jesse Tree Advent sets and curriculum and this has become a little family business for us.
I love when I meet a parent who is buying an Advent ornament set for their tiny infant. I used to think, “Oh honey, just wait. It will be years before your little one will sit still for a Bible lesson,” wanting to pat them on the back with a dose of mature Mom reality.
But now I appreciate the intention of the parents I meet who are seriously hungry to depart the normal flow we can easily get swept up by in the holidays.
I see a growing desire to disciple their children, teach them needed values and lay a foundation they may have missed out on growing up. I cheer for these youngest parents now!
Still, starting Old Testament lessons with a squirmy two year old is not easy. Can it work?
It’s Never Too Early to Start
When I share these ideas at my church I have a video playing in the background of Advent time with a two and five year old.
If you came you would see our adorable two year old closing the family Bible Dad is reading over and over again. He’s pulling Dad’s ears and crawling over the back of the couch. He doesn’t stay quiet and he doesn’t stay still. And eventually he started going to bed before Advent time.
I’ll admit he may have been too young for the lessons but I’m confident he knew something significant was happening because we lit candles (out of his reach) and snuggled on the couch and opened up the special box.
We were forming a culture of family and Bible time together. And when we invited him back the next year he was a little more in tune with the program.
So, each evening right before bed, the main elements of our Jesse Tree Advent are:
- Finding out the assigned story for the night and telling it, pointing to pictures or reading it from a children’s Bible Story book.
- Opening the ornament box or surprise, rewarding them for listening to the story.
- Hanging the ornament on the tree and emphasizing the symbol to remember.
We found that key ways to build interest and anticipation are to meet them at their level and add simple elements of surprise. How?
Here are 10 of our favorite, tested ideas:
- Find a special box or bag to place the ornament in every night to create mystery. Set this on a shelf to remind them of what to look forward to each night.
- Draw an animal or symbol together for each story in a notebook and use the pictures to re-tell all of the stories as the month progresses. They will impress you with what they can remember!
- Use a repetitive hand motion in the story to keep them engaged – like arching your hands over your head for Creation; your hands like waves for the Flood.
- Create a chart they can add a sticker to count down the days. Pick a character or theme they like and let them fill it themselves.
- Hide the ornament for them to find and play Hot or Cold. Get creative and let them hide for you to find too!
- Sing silly, short songs you know to match the story or let them make up a song. “Father Abraham…”
- Have a routine like always sitting in the same place or lighting a candle, making it ceremonious. We decorate the coffee table with a table runner, our special box, story Bible, and candle and always sit around it.
- Make some nights special by letting them dress up or be in costume. Give them a theme from the story to mirror. Several stories involve a king, lion or angel.
- Hide a Wandering Wise Men set (or 3 figures) around the house. Move them daily and point out that they are looking for Jesus too!
- As the years go on, you could leave a clue or act out part of the story to have them guess what the story is for that night. We write the story name or main character on a slip of paper in an Advent countdown box they pull out each night and read.
For 9 years we have repeated these routines and re-told these 25 stories.
On Christmas day we talk more about the life of Christ and have them take down their ornaments and together we re-cap the stories and line all the ornaments up in order on the floor. It is a great way to review and we feel, to give significant time to what the day is really about.
We’ve created a foundation that fit our family that they now love standing on. Once they slapped the pictures and crawled under the furniture during story time. Now they can read the stories to us and ask deep questions we sometimes have to write down and think about for later.
We’ve had to start adding new mysteries to our nightly Advent routine because they know the stories so well! That is the long term benefit, dear parent of a little one. It is never too late to start a new tradition and it’s never too early either.
You can start celebrating with Jen’s handmade ornaments – get 10% off anything in her Etsy shop using the coupon code: CELEBRATE
About the Author
Jennifer Love is a mom of 2 boys, who homeschools and is involved in college ministry in central Virginia.
She writes and creates resources for family discipleship, parenting and Christ-centered traditions at Intentional Traditions. You can also follow her for family time ideas and kid-friendly devotions on Instagram.