When you start reading about the history of the Christmas Tree, you might begin to feel a bit uncomfortable about the pagan beginnings of gathering around a tree for worship. Before Christianity became the dominant religion of Europe, pagans also celebrated the winter solstice by bringing evergreen boughs into the home. If you get caught up in the earliest origins of Christmas trees, it can make you feel like the best place for a tree is in the yard!
Instead, I love that God’s people have embraced the redeemed and repurposed evergreen trees. Christmas trees—whose leaves do not die annually—have come to represent the eternal life we have in Christ. Christians have celebrated Christmas by decorating the trees and bringing them indoors for centuries. This custom originated in Germany; it became popular in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, when her German husband Prince Albert brought the tradition to Windsor castle. Tradition maintains that Hessian soldiers (from Germany) brought the practice to the United States during the American Revolutionary War. Years later, decorating a Christmas tree is one of the most popular, enduring traditions of Christmas. You can read more about it here:
Some say that the first person to bring a decorated tree into the house was Martin Luther, who was captivated by the beauty of a fir tree he had seen while walking through the forest at night. Here is my favorite Christmas traditions website: WhyChristmas.com.
From Medieval times, people have combined the retelling of the story of Jesus coming to Earth with the decorating of the Christmas Tree. Yes, the Jesse Tree tradition is an old one. My friend Cati hosts a Jesse Tree Ornament exchange each year. Friends hand-make 24 sets of the same ornament; then they exchange theirs with others, so they come home with a set of 24 different ornaments, all reflecting the story of Christ. An ornament is put on the tree each night of the month of December and the origin of the symbol of Christmas is discussed. Cati’s group uses the book by Dean Lambert Smith, called The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas.
If you want to start this activity within your family, or host a gathering, Jackie Ruksdashel has put it all together for you. Just click the image below, you can purchase wooden Jesse Tree ornament sets, along with the devotional booklet of all the readings:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD–and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
(Isaiah 11:1-4, NIV).
New out this year, Ann VosKamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas is an exploration of the meaning behind the symbols used in the Jesse Tree.
Truth in the Tinsel Similar to The Jesse Tree, as a story-telling & ornament related activity, but this goes a step further toward experiential learning for young kids. The story is told as the ornament as the family makes each ornament together. “This ebook will lead you and your children on your own experience through the Christmas Story. You’ll take a few minutes each day in reading the Christmas Story directly from the Bible, making a fun ornament craft and talking about it together” (from the website).
My friend Eryn wrote this great post about combining Truth in the Tinsel with what they call, “the Advent Angel” (a very sweet alternative to Elf on the Shelf). This is a great example of how families can create their own traditions for Advent and other milestones throughout the Christian Year!
Decorating the tree is one of the highlights of my Christmas season. We have all sorts of ornaments that remind of family and friends. Many remind us that Christ is “the reason for the season.” We are like so many people whose Christmas tree is a sentimental part of the season. I love the many ways to combine the observance of Advent with the tradition of the Christmas tree. As our enjoyment of family and remembrance of the birth of Jesus lights our eyes and warms our hearts, we are able to share this light and warmth with others!
How about you? Do you do the Jesse Tree or some variation on it? If yes, how long have you done this? If no, does it look like something your family would enjoy?