It might seem early to talk about Advent, but it’s never too early to start planning or working on DIY projects… especially if you’re like me and find that your projects tend to get more and more complicated as you go!
I always loved Advent calendars as a kid, and plan on making them for our kids too. I’ve been looking into different DIY Advent calendar ideas. Pinterest and Google have lots of cute, artsy ideas, but I pass most of them by. Even though I appreciate their creativity and craftiness, so many of them seem to have lost the meaning of what an Advent calendar really is.
Yes, I love stirring hot cocoa with candy canes and going driving at night to look at Christmas lights. I also love all the cute little pictures of Christmas trees and snowmen. But I don’t think they qualify as an Advent calendar – for a fun Christmas countdown, maybe, but not for an Advent calendar. Advent and Christmas are sacred seasons. It’s OK to add other fun traditions, but not at the expense of the sacred, and for us, the Advent calendar is one way of focusing on the sacred and spiritually preparing for the coming of the Lord.
So, figuring (or at least hoping!) that I’m not alone with this point of view, I’ve gathered a few ideas and resources that keep the spiritual significance in the Advent calendar!
1. The Jesse Tree
I’d heard of the Jesse tree multiple times, but only recently realized that the Jesse tree is really a type of Advent calendar rooted deeply in tradition. Originally, the Jesse Tree was an artistic rendition of the lineage of Jesus. It depicted Mary and Jesus at the top of the tree, with the ancestors of Jesus stretching up the tree. The earliest known depiction dates back to 1086 AD in Bohemia. One of the most well known depictions is a stained glass image in the Cathedral of Chartes that dates back to 1140 AD.
Today’s “Jesse Tree” craft of activity is loosely related to the historical Jesse Tree. It has kept the imagery of the tree with Jesus and Mary at the top, but, instead of placing the ancestors of Jesus in the tree, places symbols related to Advent.
Using the Jesse Tree can be an easy way of making an Advent calendar. All you need is a tree with branches. You could use a real small tree, make a model tree with sticks, clay or any other material, or simply draw a tree on a sheet of paper. Every day, read the scripture verse for the day, talk about it with your kids, and then have them draw or make an ornament with an image symbolizing something important about the scripture passage they read, and hang the ornament on the tree.
I love the scriptural significance of the Jesse Tree tradition – unlike many Advent calendars, it doesn’t focus simply on the approach of Jesus’ coming, but begins with the story of creation, emphasizing the continuity of salvation history and showing how God fulfills his promises in Jesus.
Here are a few resources to help you get going with your own Jesse Tree:
Ornaments: If you can, have fun making the ornaments yourself or, if you have kids that are old enough, let your kids come up with symbols and make the ornaments. This makes the Jesse Tree a more personal experience. BUT… if you don’t have the time and still want the tree, have no fear! Caryn from over at Healthy Family has provided ornament templates – you can even pick between full-color ornaments or black and white ones to be colored in!
If you’re going to use Caryn’s ornaments, they correspond to the Jesse Tree scripture verses from Catholic Culture. Click here to learn more about the Jesse Tree from Catholic Culture and access their scripture passages.
I personally prefer the Jesse Tree scripture passage booklet provided by the National Catholic Register. Main advantage: The NCR booklet includes scripture verses for each day from both the Old and New Testaments, thus showing the connection, continuity and fulfillment between the two.
2. Felt Nativity Advent Calendar
Many thanks to Mary Jackson for sharing this great idea AND the patterns you need to complete it! All you need is different colored felt, scissors and hot glue or a needle and thread…
Each day your kids can take one figure from the appropriate slot and add it to the nativity scene. By December 25, the scene will be complete with the arrival of Baby Jesus!
3. The True Christmas Story Advent Calendar
This great idea comes from Tricia over at Sweeter Than Sweets. Like the Jesse Tree, it focuses on scripture and symbolism. You need 25 tiny boxes or drawers labeled 1-25, and a series of small symbolic items. Each day, your kids will open a drawer, discover the item inside and read the scripture passage that explains the symbolism behind the item. Tricia provides the list of scripture passages and a list of suggested symbols, but you could come up with your own ideas as well.
4. Activity Oriented Advent Calendar
For those of you that love DOING things, or have kids that love doing things, this might be for you. Today’s Catholic News has provided an Advent calendar of activities – one activity for every day of Advent. The activities aren’t all directly related to the Advent story, but many of them are, and all of them have some sort of spiritual meaning. The calendar is from 2011, so you’ll have to adjust the dates. You can use this calendar on its own, just ticking off each day as you go, or you could come up with a creative way of casing each activity (you could even combine this idea with the Felt Nativity Advent calendar idea, tucking one activity into each slot together with the felt figure and putting the felt figure on the nativity set after completing the activity each day.
5. The Journey to Bethlehem
Finally, to end with an idea that’s actually my own! Unfortunately, I haven’t carried it out yet so I don’t have pictures to show you, but I have the image in my mind. One year, I want to make a wall poster detailing Mary and Joseph’s path to Bethlehem. Not sure yet whether I’ll actually have them following a map, or just along a road leading to a distant manger. At the beginning of Advent, place paper figures of Mary and Joseph at the start of the path. Then, each day, after completing the Advent calendar activity (either scriptural reading or activities like the ones given by Today’s Catholic News), the kids would move Mary and Joseph one step closer to the manger, arriving at the manger on December 24…
Hopefully by now, if you’ve made it this far in the post, your creativity is flowing! God bless all of you as you prepare for the coming season of Advent.