Christmas has increasingly become a holiday cut off from its purpose of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It is, therefore, important for Christians to recapture the season of Advent as a time for preparing for Christmas.
Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming." Advent begins the church year, starting four Sundays before Christmas. The season of Advent has been set aside as a time of preparation for Christmas since at least the last half of the 6th century. Advent is a time for self-examination and asking for forgiveness as the church is preparing for Christs Second Coming even as it prepares for Christmas. This is why the color of the season is purple (or sometimes blue), which is used for marking Lent, the season of self-examination preceding Easter. The third week in Advent is set aside as more celebratory than the others. Rose is the color of this week rather than purple to mark the week, which is why a rose candle is used in Advent wreaths.
An Advent Calendar
Another way to mark the days in Advent is to use an Advent calendar. These calendars usually have a door to open each night to reveal a picture or an object (such as a small toy or candy). The days of Advent vary each year, so store-bought Advent calendars usually have 24 doors, one for each day in December leading up to Christmas. Opening an Advent calendar may follow the Advent Wreath service to more closely tie the service itself to the countdown of days.
The Advent Wreath
The circle of the wreath and the evergreens that make it up both signify Gods endless mercy and undying love. Three purple candles and one rose-colored (pink) candle are evenly spaced around the wreath. There is one larger white candle in the center of the wreath. The wreath can be as simple as four candle holders with greenery laid around them to form a circle. However, some traditions attach meanings to using different greens, each signifying another aspect of the season. These include:
Ivyto remind us of the human spirit clinging to Gods strength.
Cedarto remind us of eternal life available to all through Christ.
Hollyto remind us of Jesus crown of thorns.
Bayto remind us of victory over sin and death.
Each week, an additional candle is lit. As the light grows brighter, we are reminded that the Light of the World will soon arrive in glory. The central white candle is to be larger (often thicker) than the four in the wreath. This relatively recent addition to the Advent wreath signifies the Light of Christ and is first lit on Christmas Eve and relit burned on Christmas Day. Our simple Advent Wreath service is online.
A Nativity Scene
A nativity scene (sometimes called a crèche), is yet another way to highlight the season of Advent. Instead of putting out the whole set at once, try building the scene slowly. Begin with the manger the first week. Add a few animals the second week. Then add Mary and Joseph on the third week. On Christmas Eve add the baby Jesus and any additional figures. The wise men and camels dont arrive until Epiphany (January 6). This increases the feeling of anticipation that is Advent.
A Jesse Tree
The 11th chapter of Isaiah describes the ideal king in the line of Israels great king, David. The first verse of that chapter says,
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
Jesse was King Davids father. The image of a branch growing out of the roots of Jesse points to a new king in Davids line. Christians know that this is fulfilled in Jesus, the King of Kings, who is a descendent of Jesse. One tradition is to decorate a tree branch with symbols that remember other important persons from the Old Testament. The symbols on the "Jesse Tree" remind us that our belief grows out of deep roots of thousands of years of ancestors in the faith.
One way to create a Jesse Tree is to place a suitable tree branch in a large tin can (such as a coffee can) and anchor it with rocks. Then create the symbols on construction paper. Punch a hole in the paper ornament with a hole punch. Then attach the ornament to the tree branch with yarn. Creating a Jesse Tree can be connected to an Advent wreath service by adding a new ornament each evening at the time of the service.
Symbols for the Jesse Tree draw from images in the Old Testament. Possible symbols and their scripture references are on the following page.
Jesse Tree Ornaments Online
Below are six pages of Jesse Tree ornaments for you to print and use. Each page contains four of the designs listed below for kids to color and decorate with glitter or cotton balls glued to the ornament. Copy the designs to your computer. Print the designs on card stock. Cut each page into four ornaments and you'll have patterns for two-dozen Jesse Tree ornaments. We give permission for any non-commercial use of the designs.The files are 300dpi Bitmap (.BMP) files. You will have to be patient to download them all. I have included 75 dpi versions as .GIF files if you want to take a quick look, but they are not suitable for printing and decorating.
Page 1 of Jesse Tree Ornaments (jesse1.bmp)
Jesse Tree Symbol Suggestions for Creating Your Own Ornaments
The following list gives 25 suggestions for symbols to use in decorating a Jesse Tree along with the scripture references for the symbol. These 25 symbols would allow a new ornament to be added to the tree each day in December leading up to Christmas.
The story of Saint Nicholas
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526