Tag: jesse tree

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It

Over tea, a friend recently told me that she had never heard of Advent until last year, when she and her husband showed up to church one day and found blue and violet clothes draped behind the cross at our church and candles everywhere. She covertly googled “what is advent” as our pastor began his sermon.

She told me this story and both of us laughed, but I find myself coming back to that conversation, because I, too, showed up for church one Sunday in December years ago and found that Advent—whoever that was—had arrived. I am well-acquainted with Advent now, but it was humbling to realize that I have grown so well-acquainted with it that I don’t think to slow down and introduce others to the season as well.

I know you are all from a variety of backgrounds. Some of you grew up celebrating Advent; some of you, like me, grew up celebrating presents. So I want to assume nothing today and tell you all a bit about what Advent is and how we celebrate it as a family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

Advent is the season preceding Christmas, when we prepare ourselves for the entrance of our Creator God into his disordered creation. The season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas (that is, last Sunday the 27th), though most of our Advent readings begin on December 1. The important part is that, whether it’s four weeks even or more-or-less four weeks long, we spend that time meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus, both independently and as a family.

There are so, so many ways to do this, both at church and in our homes, but here are a few of our favorites:

We use a Jesse Tree to remind us daily of where Jesus fits in his long lineage of ancestors (and of how surprising it is that God used the people he did to shape that tree). I have written a few posts about that for this blog. If you’re interested, you can learn about what a Jesse tree is and how we use it here. You can learn how to make ornaments for it here.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

We use an Advent calendar in tandem with our Jesse Tree. You can learn more about how we use it and how I made ours here.

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

We light candles each Sunday to mark our progress toward Christmas. Many people use Advent wreaths for this; we use a cheap tea light holder from Ikea that conveniently has four wells for candles. It gets the job done and it’s pretty.

I try to do some devotional reading on my own. Last year, I spent the season studying for and co-writing the Advent series at the Deeply Rooted blog (you can read my posts from that series here, here and here. If you want to know more about why I love Advent so much, they’re a great place to start!). This year, I plan to read through John Piper’s book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy and Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him. But on the years when I’m feeling less structured, I at least try to read through one of the gospels on my own.

So You Want to Celebrate Advent | Little Book, Big Story

We try to do some sort of service as a family. The older girls usually visit a nursing home with their school and sing carols. I like to serve in the worship team at our church during Advent, though that doesn’t happen every year. But finding some way to use our gifts to bless others, even if it’s just bringing something sweet to the neighbors (sometimes that, honestly, is the extent of our service) is a goal we aim for each year.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

And, of course, we read a lot of beautiful books. I pull out an old favorite from the attic every few days, but I also like to purchase one or two new Christmas books each year to build our library. By the time Christmas rolls around, we’re swimming in beautiful stories about Jesus. If you’re looking for some of our favorites, you can read this list, or you can peruse the “Christmas” section of this blog. The Read-Aloud Revival podcast also has a lovely episode all about Christmas books that aired last year, full of great ideas for how and when to read with your family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

There. That’s a flyover view of how our family celebrates Advent. I’ll be back next week with more beautiful Advent books and resources for you.

Does your family celebrate Advent? Do you have any favorite traditions to share?

A Quick Guide to Jesse Tree Ornaments

It’s two weeks from now, and you’ve dropped by to borrow an egg. From the front door, where you stand chatting with me about the weather (weirdly clear, and the grass is crunchy with frost), you can see our kitchen table and on it, a jar full of gathered branches. If you squint, you can see a few small ornaments hanging from the very tips of the branches—our daughter’s preferred spot to hang them being as close to the end of the branch as possible, so that looking at the fragile globes suspended over our Formica-topped table gives you a sense of nervousness that you can’t immediately place.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps you think, That’s an odd centerpiece, as you pocket the egg and walk home.

But if you came back two weeks after that, with a plate of homemade Christmas cookies for us (you are the kindest and most sharing neighbor), you’d find those branches covered in ornaments—twenty-five of them, more or less evenly distributed over the branches. And you would sit at the table with us and drink tea (because we’re nice neighbors, too), and as we talked, you’d notice that each of those ornaments has a picture on it: a sheaf of wheat, an ark, a scribble meant to be a snake. You would put down your tea and look at them closely. You’d finally ask, “What is this?”

And I would say, “Oh! That’s our Jesse tree.”

To Make Or Buy? A Guide to Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

But now, let’s say that you want to make a Jesse tree of your own. How would you go about it? Assembling the tree itself is pretty straightforward—we use the process as an excuse to lightly prune the lilac beside our porch—but collecting the Jesse tree ornaments is a bit more challenging. You need twenty-five different ornaments, after all, each of them printed with a specific image. Would you purchase the ornaments pre-made? Could you make them yourself? (Would you even want to?)

Here are your answers, in short: yes, yes, and possibly, I suppose, but that depends on what sort of person you are, whether you’d rather spend time or money on this project, and if the thought of making twenty-five of anything makes the back of your neck feel unpleasantly ticklish.

So. Let’s explore your options, shall we?

To Make

I now have two separate sets of Jesse tree ornaments (one to accompany The Advent Jesse Tree, the other to accompany a different book that didn’t work out for us), and I made each set for under $10 and in what amounts to roughly one hour, spread out over the course of a few days. (There were small children involved, after all.)

DIY Jesse Tree ornaments (with instructions!) | Little Book, Big Story

For the set on top, I used air-dry clay and Sharpie markers. The process is quick and meditative: shape the clay into 25 balls, smoosh them into discs, and use a bamboo skewer to make the holes. After the clay has dried thoroughly (and not a moment before! I learned that lesson the hard way), draw the symbols recommended in your book on the front of the disc; number the back (you’ll thank yourself later). Run twine, string, or ornament hooks through the holes and voila! The season is officially begun!

DIY Jesse Tree ornaments, made with air-dry clay and Sharpie markers (post includes instructions) | Little Book, Big Story

For the set on the bottom, my original set, the process is even easier. I bought a package of those tiny ornaments at a craft store for under $5 and decorated them with a gold paint pen. (Note: you can find my tutorial for that origami Advent calendar here.)

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

And now you know how you’ll be spending your weekend.

To Buy

But for those of you who would rather not spend your weekend drawing tiny pictures on round bulbs, there are other options. These ones will cost you more in money than time, but they’re beautiful and they will probably last longer than my ornaments will. The one thing you have to watch out for, though, is that some sets are designed to go with a certain book. Make sure you double check the symbols before purchasing.

For a customizable option, take a peek at these beauties from the Etsy shop Jesse Tree Treasures. You can customize your order by choosing from 60 possible images for your ornaments. That way, you can ensure that your set matches whichever book your family follows (for the record: I love this idea):

Jesse Tree ornaments from Jesse Tree Treasures | Little Book, Big Story

And then there is the gourmet, deluxe, extra-fancy set from the Etsy shop Baby Whatnots. This listing includes a full set of handmade ornaments, as well as a copy of Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (we weren’t, for the record, crazy about that book) and all the goods you could want to make your very own Jesse Tree (except branches—you’re on your own for those):

Jesse Tree Ornaments from Baby Whatnots | Little Book, Big Story


And now that your research is done, you can start thinking about those cookies. (We like chocolate, if that helps. And sprinkles.)

The Advent Jesse Tree | Dean Lambert Smith

If it seems like I’m getting an absurdly early start on reviewing Christmas books, I apologize. Please consider it a kindness to you, because I love finding new Christmas books and traditions but loathe finding them on December 21 and having to try to remember them by November of the next year. I wanted to give you a head start.


I love Advent. The hymns and prayers of quiet expectation create a counterpoint to the holiday noise of stores, streets and schedules. The sense that the season isn’t now, not yet, but is on its way, lends our home a building suspense, one that is marked out daily by our favorite Advent celebration: the Jesse Tree.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

Here is the Jesse Tree in a nutshell: you start with twenty-five ornaments, each decorated with a particular symbol (I made mine with cheap ornaments from Michael’s and a gold paint pen). You gather a bunch of bare branches and stick them in a jar. Pinterest will tell you to spray paint your branches and nestle them into a twine-wrapped, be-ribboned jar, but ignore Pinterest. Pinterest is crazy. Bare branches in a Mason jar work fine.

Now, for every night of Advent, read a passage from The Advent Jesse Tree, and put the corresponding ornament on your makeshift tree. Got it? Those are the mechanics of the celebration.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

But the heart of it is in the readings, each of which draw a different story from the Bible to its final conclusion: Jesus. You begin in Genesis and read on to Jesus’s birth (with a peek forward into Revelation), stopping at the end of each story to remember who the story is really about. Abraham? Noah? Ruth? No. Jesus.

This book also includes hymns for each night, and questions for your children. There are readings for children and readings for adults, so you can customize this for your family. The hanging of ornaments is a simple routine (and a good one for the littlest hands), but it anchors our Advent in Scripture and reminds us that the heart of the holiday hubbub is not family, food or gifts, but the Giver of all of those good things.

Every night we are drawn back to the manger to rejoice in the work that God has done over centuries, thousands of years, in bringing his plan into effect: He came down as a child, made Himself—the Creator of everything—small, so that we could be magnified in him.

That is worth waiting for. That is worth remembering. That is worth celebrating.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

Read More About The Jesse Tree

For more ideas on how to make (or where to buy) Jesse tree ornaments, read my post, “A Quick Guide to Jesse Tree Ornaments.” You can also read more about our family’s Advent traditions in the post “Advent: What It Is and Why We Love It.”


The Advent Jesse Tree
Dean Lambert Smith (2011)